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Finding meaning

Being diagnosed with advanced cancer can challenge many beliefs that you have had in your life. You may wonder “why me?” or wonder what the purpose of living with cancer might be.

Finding that meaning is a deeply personal process. For some people, it means quiet, solitary reflection, while others look to a spiritual leader for guidance.

As you move forward, you may connect more deeply with people in your life, spend more time with them and tell them how important they are to you. Some people go back to visit places that had special meaning in their life or go on a trip they’ve wanted to take for many years. You may try to talk to or visit old friends that you have lost contact with over the years. You may want to heal a relationship that has been difficult or awkward, clear up past arguments or misunderstandings and talk about hurt feelings to find peace with someone again.

Life review therapy

A life review means looking back on your life and perhaps talking about it with another person. Life reviews are usually done with a therapist who is trained in life review therapy (sometimes called reminiscence therapy).

Through a life review, you can explore every part of your life so far – your childhood, your loves, your family, career, health and sexuality. You can think back to the important moments and people in your life and how, together, all of these make you who you are today.

Life reviews can be hard work. They take honest and deep reflection on who you are and how you came to be that person. Confusing and difficult feelings of grief, guilt, regret and shame can be mixed with pride, gratitude and joy. Often, a life review can help you make sense of your thoughts and emotions. It can be an important part of bringing your life to a meaningful close and remembering the many ways in which your life has had value and meaning.

Celebrating your life

If you prefer not to do a formal life review, you can find other ways to celebrate your life and appreciate your accomplishments, either alone or with family and friends. You can talk about your memories, look through photo albums or old letters, create a family tree or history or express yourself creatively with poems, music, artwork or scrapbooks. Some people make audio or video recordings. You can make a memory box to hold mementoes such as photos or objects that were special or unique to you. These can help people remember you and take your memory forward.