It Gets Better After the Shock of an Initial Cancer Diagnosis

A breast cancer and melanoma survivor testifies that her life got better again after hearing she had cancer.
PUBLISHED August 26, 2015
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.
Today I am in my fifties. I got breast cancer at age 46, just before my 47th birthday. I remember feeling bad for my husband — the day after my first chemotherapy, he was trying to make a small family birthday “celebration” for me. Needless to say, my mind was elsewhere, and I had no idea what would be “safe” to eat that evening or what would happen the first time chemo drugs were in my body.

My life was in the process of changing dramatically and I just wanted to survive. I desperately wanted my old life back. I was in tears, in shock and in grief as I began to mourn something that still felt too big to comprehend. My life had changed and I knew I would never truly get my old life back.

I felt swamped. My boat had tipped over and I was drifting sideways alone in a deep and foreign ocean. For a while, it was even to big to write about or journal about. One of my friends called my diagnosis “a kick in the head,” but I thought “run over by a steamroller” felt more accurate to me at the time. I felt flattened, every single inch of me.

Before cancer, I was professional trainer/speaker, and published writer on clutter clearing and home organizing where I had been fortunate to appear on television, radio, and other media venues across the country. Somehow household clutter just didn’t feel very important for a while, quite a while, after learning I had breast cancer. I was a planner, a bit OCD and, frankly, kind of a control freak. I liked to have my clutter, my stuff and my life under control. I liked to keep things simple and organized. In a few seconds of conversation with my doctor, all of that was swept away.

Eventually, hour by hour and day by day, I got through treatments, connected more to my faith and to nature and gratefully received love and support from my family and friends. After several months, “active treatment” ended and I was left to create a “new normal.” I was not sure I liked that terminology at all.

Is there really anything “normal” about cancer survivorship? I don’t think so. I had neuropathy symptoms, PTSD symptoms, worries around health issues and follow-up doctor appointments and, the big one, a fear of recurrence.

I tried to meld what I had learned through my cancer experiences with my simple living clutter clearing skills. Both experiences have taught me to actively think about and address my life priorities. Clutter clearing isn’t to have a home like Martha Stewart, it is to free up time for priorities. Cancer survivorship also can be used to turn your spotlight onto your priorities — whatever they may be: faith, family, friends, hobbies or travel. There are no guarantees for anyone that life will stay the same or be “normal,” so my advice is to figure out your priorities, write them down and start going after them today.

In addition, be gentle with yourself and give yourself the gift of time. Cancer will occupy your mind less and less with time. That said, still be vigilant about your physical health. Use prayer, distraction, connecting with nature, keeping your hands busy, whatever you learn personally works well for you and you will get through your cancer and cancer survivorship. Try to practice gratitude for small things. Try to live more in each and every moment. You can do this!

I now survive and thrive (most days) in Minnesota with my husband, daughters, and dogs. My books, "Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools" and "Clutter Clearing Choices" are available on Amazon and wherever books are sold, and I now speak to help fellow survivors and their loved ones by offering cancer coping tools as well as clutter clearing tips, depending on the audience. Life is different, not “normal,” and I am grateful for every day I have.
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