Hester Hill Schnipper Photo by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

IN THE SPRING, many of us turn our focus to backyard gardens. We know that blossoms and vegetables thrive when we prepare and maintain the soil. The hardest work often comes just at the start as we weed and enrich the soil before planting.

This seasonal preparation seems an apt analogy for how you might approach cancer treatment and recovery, taking care to ensure you’ve created an environment for growth with negative influences removed as much as possible. More simply, as I write this, lyrics from an old song come to mind, advising us to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.”

For what may be the first or even the only time in your life, you have good reason to put yourself first. Creating a nurturing environment will help you during treatment, so I encourage you to surround yourself with people and activities that help to enrich you.

1) Think about how you spend your time. Being a cancer patient can be all-consuming. Be honest with yourself about activities that bring you joy and those that are unpleasant. Emphasize the former and avoid the latter.

2) Think about your mood and energy as bank accounts. Cancer treatment may deplete those reserves, so you will need to make deposits. Consider watching funny movies, visiting museums, listening to music, eating good meals or walking in beautiful spots as valuable deposits.

3) When you have a medical appointment or another scheduled “withdrawal,” plan a deposit for the next day. Maybe you can stop on the way home from the appointment to buy flowers or a special coffee.

4) Make a list of your current obligations, including participation on committees or boards. Stay involved in activities that enrich you, and take leave from the others. Cancer provides an excellent excuse for stepping back.

5) Look carefully around your home. What makes you smile? What is beautiful? What brings back good memories? Place these mementos in clear view of your bed for your treatment recovery days.

6) Check your home for trouble spots. Perhaps these are projects you’ve been meaning to get around to “someday.” Ask a friend to help tackle clutter, remove an ugly chair or paint over an outdated wall color.

7) Depending on your budget, consider making a few small purchases that might lighten your load. A new mug for your morning coffee, high-thread-count sheets for your bed or lovely soap for the shower can make a real impact on your mood.

8) Think carefully about your relationships. We all have people in our lives whom we love and enjoy and others whom we do not. You have no obligation to continue the connection with anyone who brings you down.

9) We often have to interact with people, such as work colleagues or certain family members, who drain our reserves. Consider tightening personal boundaries and reducing time with those people as much as possible. When contact is necessary, practice letting some of their behaviors or words slide by you as you tell yourself, “There he goes again.”

10) Give yourself permission to turn down invitations and even stop responding to texts or emails if you need to.

11) As you focus on your personal needs, yanking weeds and tenderly planting seeds, remember to stop and smell the roses.

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.