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The importance of play - by Donna McMillan

Donna McMillan, ovarian cancer survivor and blog writer at The After Cancer

Donna McMillan is a former Hospice Social Worker, a former Elder Law Attorney, and an ovarian cancer survivor. Check out her website.

Cancer survivors and worry

As cancer survivors whether we intend to or not, we spend a lot of time worrying.  Is treatment working, will I get a recurrence/is this nagging innocuous symptom the sign of a recurrence, will my insurance cover my treatments/medications, what if I lose my job/health insurance, can I afford cancer, will my family be okay. The list goes on and on and sometimes cycles non-stop.  Since so much of our life after cancer is out of our control, we often spend a lot of time trying to manage the things that are in our control. And what we often forget in the process is to live the life that we fought so hard to keep. Que the importance of play.

In our fast-paced lives we don’t prioritize play 

Play is for children. Play is not productive. Play is for when we have checked off all those things on our to-do list. Play has no purpose. It’s not getting us to a goal, so we inevitably don’t take the time to schedule play. Because it’s just not as important as all the other things we think we must do. Here’s why we should prioritize it.  Play can improve our overall well-being by reducing stress. And we all know that reducing stress is one of the key components in an anti-cancer lifestyle.  What an easy way to do something that brings a little bit of joy into our lives and that can also improve our health.  

So exactly what is play when you are an adult

Play can be described as something fun or recreational. But a lot of what we do for recreation as an adult has some pressure associated with it – think of the competitiveness of golf, tennis, or pickleball. What I am talking about here is doing something aimlessly, for the pure joy of doing it, without expectation. Can’t come up with any ideas?  Start by channeling what you loved to do as a child, what made you happy and joyful. Even if it is just for a few moments because those few moments of micro joys can make a huge improvement on your outlook and overall mental state. For me, swinging on a swing is one thing that easily come to mind and brings on those feelings of childlike joy and freedom.

Play is different for everyone

What one person thinks of as play may be very different from another. Strategic board games might be fun for some and dreaded by others. Likewise, karaoke or a dance party.  Play can include others, or it can be a solo activity like writing or painting with no pressure to share your creation with anyone. You will have to figure out what play means for you.  And because we are adults and because we have the regular pressures of day-to-day life and the added pressure that comes with being a cancer survivor, you might have to search a little deeper and do a trial and error to figure out what play means to you, but trust me, it will be worth it.

If you are an introvert like me, grab a bottle of bubbles and blow, by yourself, for just a few minutes. Watch the bubbles glisten in the sun and float in the wind.  Take out those watercolors, get some crayons and paper and draw, paint, whatever your heart desires.  Write for the sake of writing, not for showing anyone else. More of an extrovert?  Schedule a night of board games, or karaoke with your friends. It doesn’t have to cost much. You Tube has a huge selection of karaoke songs to choose from.  And as even this introvert will tell you, a fun night of rolling the dice in Yahtzee can bring on a lot of laughter.

Adding some fun back into your life

The main thing here is to add some fun and play back into your life.  Something for no other reason than just the joy of doing it.  Creat Laugh.  Dance. Sing.  Wherever you think there might be joy, do it.  We didn’t fight so hard for this life not to enjoy it. Stress reduction aside, connection and meaning can be found in those little micro moments of joy, that, if we wait to schedule for when we have time, we may totally miss out on.  Do it for you. You’ve earned it.


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