Stage 4 and setting goals

A significant psychological impact of being diagnosed with a life threatening
illness is a feeling of loss of control over parts of your life that you felt
you previously had control over.

One way to manage this situation, and feel that you are back in control over
(at least) parts of your life that you can control, is to set goals and develop
a plan to achieve these goals. Here I will briefly discuss how you might set
goals, in subsequent blogs I’ll look at planning to achieve the goals that you

The SMART acronym is often used as a guideline for setting goals. I have
modified this “model” slightly for this particular purpose with a SMART goal

Specific, essential for any goal – it must always be well
defined. You have to know what if will look like when it has been achieved.

Measurable, you need to be able to identify progress in
achieving, or not achieving your goal, in a way that you can articulate to

Actionable, you (or someone else) have to be able to do
something that will lead towards achieving the goal.

Realistic, the goal has to be one that is potentially

Timely, having some idea of the time frame for achieving the
goal is important.

It can be useful to look at people who have been in similar situations and,
if they set up goals for themselves, get an idea of how these worked for them.
For example, in a blog Toni Bernhard provides some tips from her experience of living with a chronic illness that could be used to help identify a set of goals.

It also an idea to set a global goal, and then break this down into some sub-
goals, that if achieved, will result in the main goal being achieved.

In my situation I have set up 3 main goals, with a definite order of

  1. Manage my condition to ensure that my health and well being is as
    optimum as possible in the circumstances
  2. Engage in a project aimed at developing a pervasive and enduring digital
    presence on the web
  3. Carry out tasks regarding my estate and supporting people to manage
    aspects of their lives that I had previously had a big part in helping them

In this case order was important as I figured: health number one, without
being in as good a shape as possible achieving goals two and three would be
difficult. Number two goal was next because it involves things only I can do;
when I am gone this goal will have been achieved to the extent it can be
(although others could add to the material I leave behind). Number three goal is
important, but most of what I try to achieve within this area will happen
(and/or be sorted) without me. People die unexpectedly and their stuff does get

Having set these bigger picture goals I have been able to set sub goals, and
plan for achieving these goals. I can also move my emphasis from one goal set to
another. For example, if my health is good then I can work on goals in goal set
two (and maybe a little on three). If there is a relapse in my health condition
I can park the number two goals and re-set some number one goals.

It is important to keep reviewing the goals that have been set (sometimes
daily) and revising them as necessary.


About Denys Yeo

I am an educational psychologist. My work is primarily in the area of special education. I live with stage 4 cancer. This blog aims to comment on the psychological impact of living in a stage 4 state.
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