Living With a Cancer Diagnosis, Coffee Distinctions, and Life’s Nuances

Stan Goldberg, PhD

Thought of the Day- I love coffee, but amazed when I read descriptions of their flavors and aromas, “buttery, bitter sweet, raspberry, vanilla, etc.” At best I can tell if it’s chocolaty, earthy, spicy, hot or cold. In many ways, my limited taste and aroma skills parallel how I view life since my cancer diagnosis.

I’m sure there are people who can make fine distinctions with taste and aroma. When I listen to a piece of music played on a flute, there are nuances I’m making others unfamiliar with it don’t hear. But for most things, my need to create distinctions changed with my cancer diagnosis twelve years ago.

Changing Priorities After a Cancer Diagnosis

I was adept before the cancer diagnosis at finding fine distinctions, whether it involved comparisons of motorcycles, wines or philosophies. After all, weren’t these the important things in my life?

Realizing you’re no longer immortal changes your perspective. Is it important a Harley Sportster can do 0-60 in 3.50 seconds compared with the Kawasaki Vulcan’s 3.95 seconds? Is it significant a Carneros Sangiacomo 2007 Chardonnay received a score of 97 from the Wine Speculator and the Acacia 2006 an 86?

How Friends and Loved Ones View Changing Priorities

People living with cancer understand how priorities shift of what’s considered important. Friends and loved ones often don’t understand how priorities held for a lifetime can change almost overnight with a cancer diagnosis.

I still make some fine distinctions, such as in how a play a note on my shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) or the structure of a sentence in something I’m writing. But for the important things in life–such as gratitude, forgiveness, compassion, unconditional love, acceptance, and understanding–I’m satisfied with noting if it’s present or absent.

How To Determine What’s Important

There’s an old story about a forgetful monk who couldn’t remember at the end of the day if what he did was virtuous or not. An older monk said to him, “For each thing you do, call it “virtuous” or “unskillful.” If it’s virtuous put a white pebble in your pocket. If it’s unskillful, put a black one in it. When you come back to the monastery, sort the pebbles into two piles. If you have more whites than blacks, it was a good day.”

In many ways, I go through life now as if I am that forgetful monk. It’s rarely important to make fine distinctions. At the end of the day, I count the number of white and black pebbles in my pocket.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


  1. RandieK

    Good Morning Stan,
    Yes, everything changes after diagnosis. I’ve often said I wish I would not have “shared” my diagnosis of Breast Cancer so openly.
    Or, had a blueprint of how to decide who to tell or not. I get treated different or have dropped off the “friend” list … It was most obvious with this years Christmas cards. I don’t hold anyone in bad light ‘I get it’ it’s scary! But I have also told myself I will NEVER be the person I was prior to diagnosis, and I’m embracing the ‘new me’ which will include ‘new friends’ that I’ve met at my NOW life. I’m thankful and blessed for my family & friends that are still loving me ‘as is.’
    Peace to You

    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Randie,
      Yes, I’ve also found that many people don’t know how to react when someone says “I have cancer.” I find it rarely is about me and more about the person’s own fears. There is a time to try to repair relationships and a time to move one. It sounds like you’ve created a good balance.

      Take Care,


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts