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Hester ​Hill Schnipper​ ​

​Photo courtesy of Beth Israel D​eaconess Medica​l Center​​

THE START OF THE YEAR is a customary time for plans and reinvention. For most of us, these musings come in the form of New Year’s resolutions. Whether we vow to exercise more, lose weight, perform acts of kindness or be more punctual, the tradition of adopting new habits helps us to acknowledge our unique aspirations and yearnings.

Of course, we’re living through difficult times. For many, the dual challenges of the pandemic and cancer have exhausted resources, decimated resilience and diminished hope. We have been forced to acknowledge that many things are beyond our control, which may leave us feeling powerless over our future. But this legitimate concern should not dampen our optimism for better days.

New Year’s resolutions allow those of us struggling with the weight of both cancer and the pandemic to try to shape our lives in whatever form we envision. We can’t control how our cancer responds to treatment or when the pandemic will fade. We can control how we respond to these challenges.

1) Consider which resolutions are realistic and appeal to you in these unusual times. Since we have become all too familiar with disappointment and loss, we should focus on attainable goals that will bring us joy.

2) Learn to mourn your losses and simultaneously appreciate your blessings. As psychotherapist Francis Weller notes, “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them.”

3) While it may be more apparent now, we have always had limited control over events. Like a cancer diagnosis, a pandemic is a powerful reminder. You can accept this reality and think about what you can control: your words, behavior and choices about how you spend your time, money and energy.

4) Prioritize where you’d like to make changes. What is most important to you? What can you let go?

5) What are the goals of your resolutions? Do you hope to feel stronger? Happier? Less anxious? Do you want to take steps to be closer to your family or friends?

6) Traditional resolutions like improving your diet, taking a daily walk or learning to meditate are perennial classics that feed the soul and body.

7) Doing something nice for someone else is a surefire way to improve your mood and feel better about yourself. Take advantage of remote or in-person volunteer opportunities. Commit to a project that will give you a broader perspective.

8) Think about people who have been important to you. Consider writing to them to share your memories and to say thank you.

9) Find ways to honor your memories and special moments—both old and new. Perhaps you can make yourself or loved ones a scrapbook containing photographs, mementos and stories.

10) Achieving your resolutions is less important than the act of making them. Envisioning new hopes based on your values, especially now, is rewarding in and of itself. 

Hester Hill Schnipper, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor who served as the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.​ 


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