My Goals for 2020 as a Mesothelioma Survivor

Cancer & Caregiving
7-year pleural mesothelioma survivor Emily Ward

Before 2012, my life revolved around my five dogs and my career as a registered nurse.

All of that changed when I was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Work went away, and I’m glad that it did. My priorities suddenly switched from long-term goals to living one day at a time.

Seven years since my diagnosis, I still have that mindset. My goal each day is to simply wake up in the morning, be able to function on my own and do whatever I want for that particular day.

That’s the biggest difference when comparing life before and after a cancer diagnosis. Anything planned more than a day out seems less important now. I’m not afraid to cancel plans or make new ones in the moment.

If I don’t feel like going shopping and want to meet a friend for lunch across town instead, I do that. Outside of my medical appointments in Boston, everything is handled day to day.

As I enter my eighth year as a mesothelioma survivor, I realize that I’m not promised tomorrow. None of us are. I just hope to approach every day as the gift that it is and inspire other survivors in the process.

Staying Active and Keeping a Purpose

While any plans I may have for the day can change when I wake up in the morning, sitting on my butt and doing nothing isn’t an option.

My No. 1 goal for this year is to make sure I don’t sit around and vegetate. I want to make myself do things so I can be the best person I can be while I’m still here.

It gets difficult as I age. I recently told my doctors at Massachusetts General that it’s often hard to distinguish between treatment side effects, mesothelioma symptoms and what’s just normal aging.

There comes a point where you don’t know what to do about something because you can’t pinpoint the source. If I’m experiencing a lot of fatigue, is it because of the immunotherapy I’m taking, or is it just because I’ve overextended myself as a 70-year-old?

Goals and priorities naturally change as we get older. A terminal illness can quickly shift our perspectives on what’s important in life.

I’ve never been one to create a “bucket list.” My mesothelioma diagnosis in 2012 didn’t pressure me into wanting to go sky diving or swim with sharks. I have been fortunate to travel and see many places in my 70 years.

For me, I’m perfectly content with my small-town life in Maine. However, that doesn’t mean I want to live out my days on the couch at home.

I want to limit myself to short-term plans and do what I want each day, but I want to stay active and fill my life with meaningful experiences, even if that’s simply lunch with a friend or attending a local festival.

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Prioritize Your Life

When facing a terminal illness such as pleural mesothelioma, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do it all.

I didn’t have a desire to tackle some of the things others talk about wanting to experience before they die. I often worry that cancer survivors may feel pressured to check off these items, or even create a bucket list that didn’t exist prior to their diagnosis.

You shouldn’t stress over what you haven’t done. Instead, reflect on all you have done. It’s perfectly natural to want to try new things and see new places. You just have to ask yourself if that’s what you truly want.

I’ve found that approaching each day as its own chapter of my life is rewarding and fulfilling. Do what makes you happy in the moment. Life is too short to dwell or worry otherwise.

My One Long-Term Goal as a Survivor

My nephew Tyler’s wedding is in October. Making it to his wedding was the only long-term goal I made after my diagnosis.

But to get there I must accomplish my simple, short-term goal of waking up in the morning.

I’m currently receiving monthly Keytruda infusions, and I’m exploring additional options as recent scans showed growth in the muscle on one side of my chest.

My mindset for treatment hasn’t changed: I’ll try anything if it has potential to help without sacrificing my quality of life.

Hopefully that plan gets me to Tyler’s wedding in October and beyond. Until then, I’ll continue to approach each day as a gift.

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