A breast cancer and melanoma survivor shares her thoughts on time as well as her biopsy results.
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.
As a breast cancer and melanoma survivor, time has become a strange entity to me. I am five years out from my breast cancer diagnosis with a negative (no cancer) breast MRI, and I am very, very happy and grateful. I remember when I was going through chemotherapy, I was so frightened and scared that I just wanted to magically transport myself ahead five years to a successful breast MRI. At the same time, a part of me mourned and argued that I didn’t just want to give cancer five years of my life.
I didn’t want to waste the next five years worrying and stressing about making it to the five-year mark. First, what kind of life was that? Second, I knew that there was nothing magic about any time margin — one year, five, ten, or twenty years after my original cancer diagnosis.
Oh, and then a year ago there was my melanoma diagnosis on my shoulder on the opposite side from my breast cancer. More worry. More stress. Full body skin checks every three months. Many, many mole biopsies. I promised in The Cancer Survivor’s Waiting Game: Wait and Watch
to share the results of my three most recent mole biopsies — suspicious moles removed a week ago — one on my calf, and one on each thigh.
Well, I have my results, but strangely, I don’t feel I have any real answers. All three were non-melanoma! Great, right? Unfortunately, all three came back 'moderately atypical' meaning more "wait and watch" for me. Are these marginal or good biopsy results? I wanted benign (normal) biopsies. I would even have been happier to hear "dysplastic nevus" or "slightly atypical," but I was also deeply grateful that none of the three recent mole biopsies were melanoma or severely atypical. Nothing found required larger excision surgery. I am not a doctor but some days I feel like I am becoming an expert in medical terminology! I think I was hoping for lab results to grant me permission to worry less.
So how am I supposed to feel? No, there are no "supposed-tos," "shoulds" or "oughts" with feelings. Truly, though, how do I feel? I feel confused, slightly worried, sometimes pursued by cancer, and grateful. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful to not currently be in active cancer treatment, aside from my hormonal medication, and I won’t rush through my time. I won’t spend my time focusing excessively on the negative, but I am not allowed to put my head back in the sand either, in regard to my own mortality.
Time, limited time. We all have limited time, but cancer survivors are more aware of their own mortality. Maybe we waste less time because of this? I turned this feeling into a tangible thing and wrote a bucket list for myself. As I was making the list, I wrote and crossed off things I had already been blessed to be able to do that counted as bucket list items to me — After all, a bucket list is very personal.
See the Liberty Bell? Check. Virgin Islands? Check. Snorkel on a reef? Check. See New York? Check.
Since then, I have added items, like travel to Europe and go zip lining. I have also been fortunate to cross off items including: Swim with the dolphins, a hot air balloon ride, and an ocean scuba dive. Life is good. I try to turn my fear of mortality into a tangible positive — a bucket list that I actively pursue. What do you think?
Sometimes, being a two-time cancer survivor feels like a balancing act. Since cancer, it seems easier to lose my balance or to rock my boat. That makes sense to me. At the same time, I think and I hope that I am a stronger and a more aware human being than I was before all of this happened. Time is something to be grateful for. Time is something to be appreciated and used mindfully. Please share with me, as a fellow cancer survivor, how do you plan to spend your time wisely?
Busy in Minnesota