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Improving Quality of Life After Cancer: Lessons from Astronauts' Isolation Experiences

Updated: Apr 9


In the world of cancer survival, time takes on a whole new meaning. It stretches, shrinks, and bends in ways that are hard to understand to those who haven't faced the disease. As I researched Space psychology and how astronauts’ perception of time gets distorted during long term missions in Space, I stumbled upon an application on Earth that could help more people than just an elite selection of few, astronauts.What if we could apply what we’re learning from Space and apply on Earth, to help people adapt to their new life after cancer, going through the grief of surviving cancer, and slowly accepting and introducing themselves to the new person they are after cancer?



As I connected with others facing the challenges of life after cancer, I discovered something important. Unlike you might see people on the internet or hear, you might not want to be called a "hero" or have the urge to commit your life to noble causes to raise awareness. You might not want to feel guilty for simply not doing anything on a day when you feel “good”, or for not achieving as much as you did before cancer. And you know what? That's completely okay. Let that sink in. Take it all in.


Amplevity: opposed to longevity, amplevity is a life perceived more meaningful and longer than the years lived thanks the amount of different experiences and lessons learnt.

Instead, you should give yourself permission to grieve for the person you were before cancer. That person is gone forever, and that sucks because you might have really liked who you were back then. Now, you have to figure out who this new you is and make the best of the time you have left in this body. You'll find that you actually like this new you too. It might feel awkward and anxious at first, but focus on the strengths you've gained from surviving cancer, the new ways you see the world, and how you're better at figuring out what really matters. Tough times help appreciate the good times better. That's why I developed the wide time calendar, it makes these moments clear and vivid. The problem is that people are researching how to extend life, when instead, it should be widened. I call this living not for the longevity of life but for the amplevity (from latin amplitudinem, wide extent) of it: living a life perceived more meaningful and longer than the years lived thanks the amount of different experiences and lessons learnt.




The problem is that people are researching how to extend life, when instead, it should be widened.

The journey to go through this after cancer is not easy; there are ups and downs. You might face lingering feelings of sadness and anger, loneliness from not being able to be understood for what you've been through. There's also the fear of cancer coming back, especially around anniversaries. Self-consciousness from changes in your appearance might lead you to withdraw from friends and family and make you feel like you'd rather stay home, away from other people.


But there will always be something you can do:


  • Reach out to a therapist. Your provider may be able to refer you to a mental health provider who can help you sort through your emotions and come up with ways to deal with your feelings.

  • Reach out to other cancer survivors. Support groups, whether in your community or online, provide a great place to share your feelings and hear from others who are going through what you're experiencing. You can learn new ways of coping with fears. You also can offer your own expertise to other people who are going through active treatment and help them in their journey.

  • If you're uncomfortable with the idea of sharing your thoughts, record them in a journal and use the Wide Time calendar. It’s nothing fancy, it’s just a paper calendar, but it can have the same power as writing a journal. It’s inspired by astronauts going through isolation, routines, daily medical monitoring, and a new confined life they’re living in the Space shuttle. The Wide Time calendar helps you see time not just as it linearly passes, but through the important things you go through. Even tough times help you see time differently, because when good times come, they give you a whole new perspective. The focus of the calendar is on living life fully, not just how long it lasts. The calendar focuses on living life for it’s width, not it’s length. The problem is that people are researching how to extend life, when instead it should be widened.



This calendar has certainly worked for me when I tested it as an analogue astronaut to avoid that the days would warp together and I lost motivation and purpose for being stuck under a dome in complete isolation, eating the same food everyday and having no idea whether is was day or night.



I hope that people grieving cancer also find the Wide Time calendar useful to help re-frame your new life and time perspective.


Whether you are an astronaut or an earthly human. Ad astra. For a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation for the journey ahead!


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