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Before Cancer, After Cancer — How Do Survivors Blend?

This breast cancer and melanoma survivor thinks blending old normal with new normal is more than blending before-cancer life into after-cancer life.
PUBLISHED: NOVEMBER 04, 2015
This breast cancer and melanoma survivors thinks blending old normal into new normal is more than blending  before-cancer life into after-cancer life.

After two cancers, life has changed and I have changed. Life is different—it includes follow-up appointments and tests; physical and mental side effects; more worry; and a wait-and-watch state of being for the rest of my life. That is life now for me. I try to blend cancer monitoring into the rest of my life, which also continues to change. I am also trying to blend my post-cancer self and my pre-cancer self into this new life. Can you relate?

First, there is my job — the external me.

Before cancer, I was and I still am a clutter-clearing motivational trainer and author. I try to offer readers and listeners a variety of weeding-out and organizing tips, and the ideas are all wrapped around personal stories with a touch of humor that helps people to remember. Writing and speaking about my cancer experiences can be a more emotional discussion, as you may have experienced, and yet sometimes there is a glimmer of humor in the cancer experiences. Sometimes, but not very often. I try to blend my before and after external selves, some days with more success than others. Have you ever struggled with this too?

Is my own personal career or direction the same as it was before cancer? Well, sort of ... both clutter clearing and cancer coping have helped me to get better at determining and acting on my life priorities. Clutter clearing, for me, has never been about perfectionism, though sometimes I honestly was a bit obsessive-compulsive in my organizing approach. In truth, some of the details of clutter clearing in my job definitely interest me less or differently since cancer.

Ideally, clutter clearing is about getting rid of stuff and being organized enough to have more time and energy for personal priorities, whatever they are. Cancer, which tends to direct my mind to my own mortality, also forces the issue of getting better at focusing on and acting on my life priorities, and getting less hung up on the extraneous stuff of life and the stupid details. Has your work or external focus changed?

Second, there is me — the internal me.

How do I blend? Do I wear my cancer on my sleeve and have a bumper sticker on my car? Do I keep it private? Do I choose to share my cancer experiences with certain people in my life but not everyone? No, I don’t wear cancer paraphernalia — my personal choice. No, I don’t keep it private in the sense that I write about it using my real name. Yes, I share my cancer scans, worries and biopsies now with certain people in my life, but not with everyone.

Is there a "different me" after cancer? Yes. In some ways, I actually hope so. I hope I am quieter and listen more and speak less. I hope I choose my words more carefully and am less critical of others than I was before cancer. I hope I am kinder and more thoughtful and even a little bit more patient and persistent.

After cancer, it is now even easier for me to be more focused on simplification and priorities but somehow less interested in the details of clutter clearing. Somehow, a few dust bunnies just don’t matter so much any more. Can you relate? Has your own cancer experience changed your career or focus in some unexpected way? Have you found a connection between your before-cancer direction and the direction you are going now? Has your direction been altered by your cancer experience? How have you blended?

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
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