How to Know When Enough is Enough

by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

Life can get very full. Busyness seems to be the norm these days. However, after cancer, busyness is not always our best choice. Where then is that threshold of doing enough and knowing when we are getting close to our breaking point.

Before cancer, I’m sure most of us pushed through periods of time when we were tired, not feeling well, and were maxed out. I sure did. We, mostly as women, but men as well, learned how to multi-task, filling each moment of the day. Usually it’s work, then home and family activities or tasks.

Thinking back, I wonder how I did it. However, I was younger and had more energy as well as drive. This changed after cancer.

What changes?

  1. Energy levels

Fatigue is a huge side effect of cancer. It is fatigue as we’ve never experienced. It feels as though the bottom fell out of our energy bank and we have absolutely nothing left. One moment the energy is there, the next moment it is gone. We’re done.

With time, energy returns but in my experience never back to the level that it was before cancer. Even all these years later, I still have to be aware when my energy is running low to ensure that I rest and recharge.

This means understanding when to say NO to activities. It means reading my body to know when I’m getting close to this state. It means knowing what is enough.

How? By identifying the signs some of which are:

  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired behind the eyes
  • Sleeplessness
  • Sluggishness
  • Mental fog
  • Body aches
  • Hearing the voice inside saying – STOP
  1. Stamina

Where once we could push through fatigue, it is now impossible – or if we do, we do so at our risk. For me, it’s that feeling where I just have to lie down. When I do, I feel as though I weigh 500 pounds. I sink into the mattress and don’t move. I’m done.

This is the tricky place where we need to understand we have just undermined our immune system. Fatigue lets all defenses down. After cancer, this is risky business. We can’t afford to let our defenses down. This is when cancer has the opportunity to gain ground.

Our body needs rest in order to heal. It needs sleep and nourishment. These are not luxuries. These are essentials in order to regain our health and wellness.

Stamina is not a given anymore. It can be rebuilt to a workable level to create a quality life. All is not lost, but it will likely not be the same as before.


  1. Ability to Manage Stress

This one is interesting. Stress is with us in many forms. Some stress is good for us – the positive stress. The stress we need to reconsider is negative stress that erodes our immune system.

After cancer, I found that my ability to handle stress was greatly diminished and still is a struggle. Stress also plays a huge role in managing energy levels. Stress is tiring and draining. Constant stress will create havoc with your health impacting your sleep, digestion, and emotional state.

It’s important to identify what is stress for you because stress is unique to each person. What I find stressful might be exhilarating to you and vice versa. It is in knowing yourself – what pushes your buttons – that will help you –

  1. a) Avoid stressful situations when possible, and
  2. b) Manage stressful situations when you encounter them.

The ‘enough is enough’ phrase comes up here. It’s setting boundaries for what you will accept in your life; the limits to which you can and choose to extend yourself.

This takes practise. It doesn’t come all at once. It’s learned through trial and error. Each time you overextend yourself and fall into fatigue, you will learn the warning signs of when to stop and say ‘enough is enough’.

People around you will notice your change. It may not be comfortable for them either. They are used to you the way you were before cancer. Their expectation is the same, but you are not the same. Standing your ground will take courage and determination to stay the course to a better way of life that will help you heal and stay healed.


  1. Work

This area is difficult. I hear so many stories of people who struggle going back to jobs they had before cancer. It seems to be a common theme. Why?

  • The work may be fine but the workload or relationships within work are no longer tolerable.
  • Employer standards are no longer attainable. If you’re fortunate, they will understand your new needs and allow for flexibility. If not, it may mean a different environment/job/position.
  • The job no longer appeals. You’ve changed as has your outlook on life. It may be time for a change.
  • Physical changes due to cancer treatment may mean you can no longer do your job. I’ve seen this play out many times.
  • Fatigue may mean part time work versus full time work or something that can be done that is more flexible.
  • Brain fog could play a huge role in whether you have the capacity to work depending on the nature of your career.

Learning to accept these situations and identifying when you have gone as far as you can go is huge. It’s hard often to admit these things, but it is so necessary in order to get your life back on track.

There are stories of people who have gone on to create unimaginably creative and fulfilling lives once they moved past these obstacles and found the gold in the new way of life. It’s a choice and a way of thinking.


  1. Relationships

There are people in our lives who just push all our buttons. Doesn’t matter what the occasion, it happens. We either have to change how we look at the situation or move on. Staying in the same place is harmful to your health.

Someone I know mentioned that they ‘fired’ some of their friends. These were the friends that no longer supported this friend’s new life. They just didn’t get it.

There are people with whom you cannot be yourself. Their values and yours just don’t mesh. It’s kinder to just release them to find people who have the same values as theirs. You will find your own ‘tribe’.

Then there are the sad situations when the one person you thought would be there for you is not and leaves. I’m thinking spouses. This happens more often than you can imagine and just makes me upset. And, there is the case where you may need to leave. This happens too. It’s identifying that sometimes, no matter how much you want a relationship to work, it just isn’t going to happen. Again, when is enough enough?


In the years since 1990 when I was diagnosed, I’ve gone through the whole range of the above situations. I know them personally at different times in my journey. From each situation, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned what my real values and beliefs are. I’ve learned what I will accept, what I will tolerate, and what I will not accept.

At some point in life, we have to step into our path and make our way. If we’re fortunate, the people we chose in our life before cancer will still be along for the journey. In other cases, some people will choose to go a different path. Understanding that this is part of your life journey will make it easier to accept and view the journey forward as a great adventure – an adventure of learning who you truly are. The adventure and learning of when ‘enough is enough’ and being okay with enough.

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