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You Don’t Have to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro: The Pressure to Be an Overachieving Cancer Patient

(Photo of Mt. Kilimanjaro by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via wikimedia commons.)

Are you an overachiever, or have you ever been labeled as one?

I am not, nor have I ever been called an overachiever, and this is okay with me. I don’t need to be the person who gets the most done in the shortest amount of time, earns the top prize or whatever.

Sure, I get stuff done. Generally, on time even. But early? Hardly ever. And yes, I like to do a good job, especially when the task is something I care a lot about – like my writing, for example.

But even with my writing, I have never been, nor do I plan to be, an overachiever. If this were the case, I’d likely have my next book already published or at least have the manuscript written started instead of having the ideas and words still rolling around in my head, which is where they still are. Mostly.

Oh well. I’ll get to it.

Recently, I read a post by fellow blogger, Marie Ennis O’Connor, called, Letting Go of the Myth of Perfectionism. Reading it gave me the nudge to write this post. (Thank you, Marie)

Marie’s post was specifically about perfectionism and how it’s a trap many people, cancer or no cancer, fall into.

There are perfectionists among us everywhere. Heck, maybe you’re one. Which is fine, btw. Some of us are wired that way. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

But this post is less about being a perfectionist and more about being an overachieving cancer patient. The two are related, but I don’t think they’re the same.

Do you?

There is an expectation (yeah, I know, yet another one) that seems to be fairly prevalent in Cancer Land. The expectation that seems to suggest that after a cancer diagnosis, you better do something with your life. (Yeah, I know, like you were just sitting around twiddling your thumbs before.) Get stuff accomplished. And not just little stuff. Big stuff.

It’s sorta like the bucket list concept on steroids.

After reading Marie’s piece, I read one about Amy Robach titled, Amy Robach Marked 5 Years Following Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis by Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I guess we were supposed to be inspired by this feat.

My reaction was to chuckle and okay, roll my eyes, too, because you see, I wrote about this VERY THING regarding exercise in my memoir:

Exercise, yes, but don’t beat yourself up trying to run marathons or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, unless of course, you want to.

Yep. I actually mentioned climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great Amy Robach climbed that mountain if that’s what she wanted to do. Kudos to her and her family, too, for making the trek with her. It was symbolic for her and a way to channel her fear. I get that. I respect that.

But her life is not like mine, and I’m guessing not like yours either, post-cancer diagnosis. Of course, it wasn’t before either.

So, why is her trek up the mountain supposed to inspire us?

Call me a wet blanket if you want, but it’s probably not something most of us aspire to or are even inspired by. I mean, I walk around my neighborhood a couple miles most days – climb a mountain, are you kidding me?

A very wise blogging friend I follow and encourage you to as well is Carolyn Thomas, author of the excellent book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease. Her article, Post-Traumatic Growth:  How a Crisis Makes Life Better – or NOT, has always stuck in my mind. (Yeah, post-traumatic growth is a thing.)

These words from Thomas seem especially relevant to this post: 

My concern with the Post-Traumatic Growth concept for patients is that not only are we supposed to manage a serious health crisis, but we’d better do this recuperation thing correctly so that we can emerge triumphantly at the other end with glowingly heroic results. Oh, and don’t forget: inspirational! 


Who needs the additional pressure to be heroic or inspirational following a serious illness diagnosis?

Nobody. That’s who.

Again, a snippet from my book:

No one should feel pressured to accomplish profound things following a cancer diagnosis. No matter what your cancer type or stage, trying to reclaim and maintain your life and sanity will be profound enough. Trust me. It will be.

Cancer Was Not a Gift

After a cancer diagnosis, you are not obligated to do big things. Don’t lie awake at night waiting for that epiphany either. If you do have one, great. But don’t lose sleep over it if you do not.

Me, I’m still asking, where is my epiphany?

I am here to remind you that following your cancer (or other serious illness) diagnosis, you don’t have to start a blog, write a book, mentor others, walk or run in races, wear pink (seriously, you do not have to this one) or whatever the heck else you think you’re supposed to do. You don’t have to do any of that stuff. No, you do not. Your job is to live your life as best you can. Focusing on that is no small task.

The pressure to do those other big things, whatever the heck they might be, can add yet another burden for the “ordinary” cancer patient who might be struggling to just get out of bed, go to work, take care of the kids, load the dishwasher, do the laundry, walk the dog or whatever the case might be.

You don’t have to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro unless, of course, you want to.

Personally, I am WAY more inspired by those who manage to carry on with their lives following a cancer diagnosis, mundane parts and all.

After all, living life the best way you can IS doing something BIG.

Am I inspired by those who climb mountains post diagnosis?

Not so much.

What about you?

If you want to read more articles like this one, Click Here.

If you like this article, you might want to read, After a Cancer Diagnosis, You’re a Better Person, Right? It relates to this one.

Cancer or no cancer, are you an overachiever or have you ever been called one?

Have you ever felt pressure to do something “big” post-cancer (or other serious) diagnosis?

Are you inspired by those (like Amy Robach) who go on to accomplish what others perceive as big things?


the pressure to bean overachiever post-cancer diagnosis #cancer #breastcancer #health #mentalhealth

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Wednesday 16th of June 2021

This post popping up today for me is so timely and helpful. Yesterday I went out for lunch with a friend who suggested I need “ a new hobby “ .....I’m still fuming! I tried to explain the fatigue that comes from 18 months of treatment but she just looked at me blankly. You don’t know unless you you know right?! I’m extremely happy pottering around my life, just celebrating everyday of being here. I shouldn’t have to prove myself by grand gestures. Thanks Nancy x


Friday 18th of June 2021

CazfromOz, Well, I'm glad this one popped up for you at the right time then. You definitely don't need to prove yourself to anyone with grand gestures or achievements. Doing what makes you happy sounds perfect. Keep doing that. :) Thank you for sharing.


Monday 25th of January 2021

I would like to know if that lady was climbing mountains, or planning to, before cancer? Just curious. Having a goal isn't a bad thing, but going on a cruise as a goal is more MY style! LOL. Just gettibg back to seminirmal was my gisl for years. I was still seeing my onco every 3 months for 4 years after my treatment. After going to 6 months for 2 years, as finally moved to annual 2 years ago. So now its 9 years after treatment, and going for my Dexa today, so my 3rd annual apt is coming up. My treatment was not the express train. It was, um, the "Scenic Detour". LOL it took me 3 years to get my implants to stay in. That was my first goal after chemo. When I finally made that, I got to have my knee replaced. LOL. Goals change. Everybody just do you. That's what matters.


Tuesday 26th of January 2021

Moonflwr912, She might've been, but who knows. "Everybody just do you. That's what matters." Best advice ever. Thank you.


Wednesday 20th of January 2021

I'm an overachiever, always have been. NOT a perfectionists, however, which I sometimes wish that I could be. For cancer, I read too much, comment too much, and can be way worked up about.



Thursday 21st of January 2021

Linda, You'd really be putting a lot of pressure on yourself if you were an overachiever AND a perfectionist. So, there's that good news. Thank you for reading and commenting on my cancer-related posts. Hope they don't get you too worked up though. :)

Carolyn Thomas

Friday 8th of February 2019

Oh, Nancy... This is one of my favourite discussion topics. Thanks so much for quoting that "Post-Traumatic Growth" section in my book. Don't get me wrong, I think that those who feel the need to accomplish outstanding things after a medical crisis have a perfect right to do so if they wish. I get that thrilling sense of "I DID IT!", I really do. What I specifically cringe over is that pervasive expectation that ALL of us could do the same thing (if we would only pull up our socks and stop moping around...) That's expectation is so hurtful when we can barely brush our teeth, never mind climb Mt. Kilimanjaro...

Today, for example, I dragged myself out of bed where I've been nursing a brutal head cold, got dressed and walked down to the village to pick up a few last-minute groceries because it's just started snowing here on the west coast (a very rare event!!) I still feel like hell and am functioning at barely half-speed, but I'm pretty darned proud of myself for that walking accomplishment! Wooooo Hooooo....


Sunday 10th of February 2019

Carolyn, I am totally with you, and I loved that post-traumatic growth post you wrote. Like minds. Ha. And you should be darn proud of yourself for walking to the store when feeling like crap. That's no small feat at all - especially this time of year. It reminds me of when I had newborns in the house and at the end of the day, I'd feel like I'd gotten a lot done if I had managed a shower and unloaded the dishwasher. Everything is relative, I guess.

Ilene Kaminsky

Monday 21st of January 2019

Oh how relieved I am to know that other people who’ve written books and have blogs I wish mine were more like providing awesome and awe inspiring advice, well researched articles, and humor that tickles even the most curmudgeonly of cancer patients. As for me, I have minor daily goals that I meet 50% of the time. I still can’t get around to “drink more water” and “eat more protein or even food today.” Talk about ordinary. But I’ve put on my yearly list of shit to accomplish - publish one of the books in 2019 I want to write. Most likely it’ll be the poetry chap book. For some reason I believe I can make it to LBBC this year but the new highlight of my life is that I will be on Taxol through the end of May so I may not make it to Philadelphia this year. My other pedestrian goals are to get in on the immunotherapy trial in Bathesda which I’ve started the process on with extending my Taxol treatments and getting my genes tested, results due in 2-3 weeks. These are the trials and tribulations that make us go on I suppose to meet GF next day. Which sometimes is like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or running a full marathon or publishing a whole real book. Every day is a huge accomplishment for all of us. And as we lose one another and our journey of survival comes to an end we mourn our sisters and brothers and inbsome way mourn a loss of our own journeys along side of them. Now the day seems like an ordinary day of cleaning the cat puke - he actually spun around in a huge circle and spewed catfood from dining to living room. As I cleaned up I tripped over the vacuum causing a huge pail of water to soak down the living room 9 x 12 foot white and now slightly gray rug. Followed by putting my too hot butternut squash soup in the blender and pulsing it one too many times and cleaning the ceiling of my kitchen on a step ladder. Ah, all I want is the ordinary life. With a housekeeper in my next life, please. Now off for my nightly comedy show of choice and a hot bath. Praying for sleep and for a new ordinary day, I bid you all peace no matter what you do with it. And I love eachof you for touching my life from across the internet and many “miles to go before I sleep,” to quote a favorite poem - “Do not go gently into that good night.”


Monday 21st of January 2019

Ilene, Thank you for sharing your insights on this topic - you covered a lot of ground! "Every day is a huge accomplishment for all of us." Well said. That about sums things up, I'd say. I do hope you get your poetry book published this year, if that is one of your goals. Here's hoping you have many ordinary days. Hoping we all do. There is beauty in the ordinary.

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