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How Breast Cancer Changed My New Year’s Resolutions

Here are my six goals for 2023.

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illustration of woman touching her white hair
Nadia Hafid
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Since 1983, a then-new friend and I have been meeting every December for a resolutions brunch. The COVID years forced us to relocate these mimosa- and salmon eggs Benedict–fueled gatherings to Zoom. My resolutions would involve big swings: write and sell a book proposal, double the number of patients in my psychotherapy practice, begin a podcast to build my brand. …

At midyear, I’d revisit each resolution. When one didn’t appear within reach by December, I’d beat myself up. And if one did appear within reach, along with the rejoicing would come buckets of stress. (“How will I make that tight deadline?!”)

Then the finiteness of life was brought home to me with the subtlety of a sledgehammer: In February 2020, a routine mammogram  revealed two microscopic tumors that turned out to be malignant.

I am now more than two years cancer-free. These days, my New Year’s goals are increasingly more experiential and attuned to supporting being in my life — reveling in a fleeting experience rather than notching a professional gold star to share on Facebook.

In no particular order, here are my resolutions for 2023.

Never bypass an empty hammock

I live alongside a park sporting three canvas hammocks. Seeing one instantly conjures up memories of beach vacations spent lounging around, sipping piña coladas and inhaling steamy bestsellers. In the past, if I spotted the rare unoccupied hammock, more often than not I would pass it by. But on my deathbed it’s those bypassed empty hammocks I will regret, not any missed deadlines.

Now, no matter how harried I feel, if opportunity presents itself between two trees, I will treat myself to a lie-down in a gently rocking hammock — in paradise. 

Maintain my fledgling daily gratitude/meditation practice

I’ve long preached to my psychotherapy patients the value of devoting even a miniscule amount of time daily to get into a mindset that is glass half-full versus half-empty. In the spring of 2022, I finally began following my own — it turns out fabulous — advice! In addition to keeping a daily gratitude journal, I exchange nightly emails with a gratitude buddy, documenting events of the day that brought even a flicker of happiness. These might be anything from receiving an overdue check to having my Yorkie mix blanket my face in kisses. A tandem benefit comes from participating in Zoom meditations with renowned Buddhist teachers Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach.

Jump off the diving board (after checking that there’s water in the pool)

Before decades of physical and psychological limps and lumps slowed me down, I’d always been up for a spontaneous adventure. My past exploits include splurging on a last-minute plane ticket to London to be present for Princess Diana’s funeral — my friend and I arriving at Buckingham Palace just as the queen was returning to address her grieving subjects.

During what was billed as a spiritual horseback ride at a Taos, New Mexico, pueblo, despite my fear of speed, I obeyed my guide, Dekoeta, a 60-something Native American, to “gallop like the wind.” It was magical! Another past-life adventure was using my journalist credentials to finagle my way into “performing” onstage with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall despite being fairly short and not a dancer. More recently, I’ve turned down enticing opportunities that were potentially too strenuous or stressful. For 2023, bring it on!

Redefine my story

For years I fell into the trap of self-identifying by how I’d introduce myself at parties: editor, then author, followed by psychotherapist, workshop leader. It wasn’t enough to be just Sherry; my sense of self remained tied to my most recent concrete accomplishment. I also labeled myself by what seemed like set-in-stone flaws: terrible cook, awful athlete, inept at bookkeeping. …

As I tell patients, with every self-attack (“No one really likes me!”) or recitation of real and perceived limitations (“I suck at organization”), we dig ourselves deeper into a fixed, negative mindset. Just as what we feed our body impacts our physical health, what we feed our psyche impacts our mental well-being.

Happily, over time, we can change the narrative by cultivating what psychologist and author Carol S. Dweck terms a “growth mindset,” versus a “fixed mindset.” Lacking faith in our ability to change can keep us mired in self-destructive beliefs.

Today my story is: “I’m a good, quirky and intelligent human being doing the best I can. And while I’m not Julia Child, I haven’t poisoned anyone yet!”

Prioritize loved ones

Throughout most of my adult life, too often I put career ahead of anything else: I was “too busy” to attend a friend’s birthday party or spend more than cursory time with my mother. Sure, Bernice Amatenstein was my most important person, but when we were together, invariably I’d count the hours until I could leave and do something more fun or productive. A sudden heart attack took my mom in April 2005, leaving me with a reservoir of amazing memories alongside wistfulness about memories I’d deprived myself of making.

Sell a book proposal

If this doesn’t happen, rather than beat myself up, I’ll toast the effort with a mimosa or piña colada. And I’ll try again in 2024.

Do you make New Year's resolutions? Let us know in the comments below.

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