Even my own family doesn't get it, and I'm glad. Two-time cancer survivor describes an isolating, fear-of-recurrence moment.
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.
Wow. Over five years out now, I would think I would be doing OK, and most days, I am. Life really is good. I struggle with fatigue and side effects, but I am grateful for each day I am here. Then something unexpected happens that raises all those fears of recurrence that normally aren’t lying out on the table or even at the top of my mind.
My “something” happened on Father’s Day morning. Our youngest daughter took a dog out to exercise by throwing the ball for her (the dog). When the dog got hot, she snuck down to the pond and had a drink before my daughter could stop her. We were all worried about the blue-green algae sickness that can kill dogs. My husband was angry. My daughter was sad and worried. I was strangely calm.
In my mind, there was probably a 95 percent chance or greater that our dog would be fine. Most algae are not the blue-green variety and even most of the blue-green variety are not fatal to dogs. Still though, why was I
calm? I think because each day I personally live with about an 85 percent chance that I will be fine or a 15 chance that I won’t be OK between my breast cancer and melanoma odds. In my mind, my dog was living with a 95 percent chance to be fine and a 5 percent chance that she wouldn’t be OK for one day — one day
. Her one-day odds seemed pretty acceptable to me.
When I tried to explain this to my husband and daughter to calm them both down and give them a little perspective, neither of them “got it.” I think they thought I was trying to turn the family attention spotlight away from the dog and back to me and my cancers. That wasn’t it at all. Please don’t get me wrong here — I love our dog and I would be devastated if she died.
If you are a survivor, I think you understand what I was saying. I was trying to reassure them and put some perspective on the situation. I ended up feeling misunderstood and alone. I felt a degree of separation from my immediate family and there was nothing I could do to change it. Thinking about that still makes me feel sad. Truly, unless you are a survivor, you don’t “get it.”
I talked to my husband about it later that day to try to clarify. He was honest. He said “I honestly don’t know what you go through every day. I hope time softens it for you.” My first response was that I wouldn’t want him to know what it was like every day (as we all know, some days are better than others). My second thought was yes, time does and has softened it, but it is still there
. It, the fear of recurrence, will be there for the rest of my life.
People who haven’t been there just don’t get it. It isn’t that I dwell about it daily. It is just that I wanted to use my experience for good, a chance to help my family members by sharing my different perspective. It didn’t work. I guess I should be glad it didn’t work. Tomorrow is a fresh day. On Father’s Day, I still felt a little alone and upset.
I struggle to turn that day’s emotions into positives. What can be learned? First, as a cancer survivor, be gentle with yourself when moments of isolation happen — some moments you will expect to have your emotions get stirred up, like before a doctor appointment, but others may be unexpected — like Father’s Day was for me. Second, it may be helpful to check in and share experiences with fellow survivor(s) at times for some understanding that can come only from personally experiencing what each of us has experienced. Thank you for listening today.