The Pressure to “Make Every Day Count”

One of the main suggestions I’ve received (and mainly followed) for dealing with a terminal illness is to be more mindful, to live in the moment, to focus on what can be done NOW rather than looking back or looking ahead too much. For those of us who are usually the planners in the family, this adjustment can be really really hard. Living in the scan, treat, repeat experience where we literally hold our breath in three (3) month intervals as we live until the next scan can be excruciatingly hard.

And then when the ordinary takes over, this idea of making every moment or day truly count, becomes something different and can take on different weight. How do we make every moment count when we have to do laundry and feed children and pack lunches and discipline our children and clean up? The ordinary feels … ordinary.

Paul Theroux, an American ironist, may have been the one to use the term, “the tyranny of the ordinary” to greatest effect, referencing his ejection from Africa during an uprising, and referencing his addiction to adrenaline and desire to always roam the earth for the next big thing. Another term for someone like this is an “adrenaline junkie,” but the point is that if your life, your ordinary life, doesn’t hold your attention, you are forced seek that which does. This restlessness to seek out new experiences or to travel from high to high does wreak havoc on relationships and doesn’t translate well to parenting and the needs of children.

Is that what making every day count really means? To seek out emotional highs and to continually seek the mountain top experience?

The flip side is to celebrate every breath, every beat of our hearts, every single step.

It is that flip side that I think is what is mean by making every day count. The samurais in the movie, the Last Samurai, demonstrate this. Each task they complete, no matter how ordinary, is completed as if it is the most important thing in that moment. That discipline, that habit, that consistency means that when they are called to complete larger things, they have built up that perspective, that focus, and are able to answer the call.

I’m far from a samurai and while I’ve tried to emulate this idea, there just isn’t enough focus or energy in my post-chemo body at times. Then, when I’m not able to apply my hard earned perspective to the ordinary, I feel as though I have failed. This pressure or the desire to be more and more intentional becomes almost stifling at times and it is easy to feel as though pieces of my worthiness as a human being are affected.


We have the choice, no matter the pressure or desire or perspective of anyone else, to choose in THIS moment what to focus on. The last moment doesn’t count and the next moment hasn’t come. What we have is now.

And so, despite the pressure or the perspective of others, my choices, my desires, my habits in THIS moment is what is important. Even if what is going on RIGHT NOW is that I’ve lost my keys, this moment is what is important.

12 thoughts on “The Pressure to “Make Every Day Count”

  1. In the beginning of my diagnose I struggled with this. I didn’t want to yell, argue, fight….but I’m a mom of a little boy who despises authority and a wife to the man who embodies “fight against the machine”. I felt guilty every time I battled homework or took a nap. Heck I still do. But you are right. Every moment counts. Not just the happy ones. That’s life. And making life count with all its moments is what matters…. even when it’s simply tater tots for dinner!

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  2. This is such a balanced and meaningful perspective. Life is finding meaning in the moment. and even the very ordinary can bring a sense of contentment and gratitude. I love both ordinary and the new and invigorating.

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  3. I’ve always lived in the moment. I try not to look back or wish I could change things. My problem is that I fear the moments are going to be so few that unless I concentrate, I fail to enjoy the moment. Lately I ask myself what’s that days brightest moment was and that helps.

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    1. I’ve struggled with this too! Like I’ve failed or something if I don’t appreciate every single moment. Thinking about highs and lows of the day is a good way of mitigating some of that angst. Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful responses to my posts. It is always appreciated!! 🙂


  4. Hi Abigail,

    Such a good post. As usual. Without a doubt, there is pressure put on cancer patients to live more in the moment, to stop and smell the roses, appreciate the little (and big) things, to make bucket lists, climb mountains (literally and figuratively) and on and on. I’ve always balked at the notion that we can only truly appreciate life post cancer diagnosis or some other trauma.

    I like your idea of being more mindful – cancer or no cancer. That feels like less pressure, for some reason. And we can be more mindful about whatever we choose at any given moment. Living our best life, whatever that means to each of us. Maybe that’s what it boils down to.

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    1. Yes, I too have balked at the notion that we can only appreciate life appropriately post cancer or some other trauma. I do think that a trauma is often key to ensuring that the “fluff” is eliminated, but to require that response is just wrong. Thank you, as always, for your support! 🙂

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