Melanoma cancer survivor is grateful and feels like she discovered that she is allergic to air.
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.
Fear. Frustration. Fatigue. I’m tossed back into the pool—the “normal” screening pool— or close.
After a couple years of three-month melanoma checks because I had the disease, I now go back to my “usual” six-month checks. I am not sure how I feel about that. Of course, I can always go in before that if I find something. How do I find something on a body that has a liberal supply of moles, freckles, and now, assorted scars? My insurance won’t cover digital mole mapping.
Finding a melanoma on your body feels like discovering you are allergic to air. Really? I got this from being outside? Too much working and walking and swimming outside. Gasp. Shame on me. (Okay, the truth is I sunned outside, mostly in college, and sometimes used a tanning bed before a winter vacation). Still, it seems odd to me on some level.
I inspect and I fret, much like the way I do with my monthly self-breast exams. I go looking for things I don’t want to find. Both exams seem a little like looking for a pea in a bag of marbles. I scare myself. I worry myself. Life goes on. As a breast cancer and skin cancer survivor, I feel like I have one foot in the “normal,” everyday world and one foot in the cancer world. I keep track of cancer appointments and regular doctor appointments for me and for my mom. We both have had cancer—twice.
My melanoma was caught on a routine full-body skin check appointment with my dermatologist. My breast cancer was caught on a routine mammogram. After the one-year diagnostic mammograms, many breast cancer patients are also thrown back in the regular screening pool. I am living proof that the screening tests save lives. I am grateful to be here with my family. I am blessed. I am fortunate and weary with worry.
That is what a cancer diagnosis does. It signs you up to a life of worry that is kicked up a notch. The things cancer survivors worry about are life-threatening things. There are definitely worse ways to live. The worry is a loss and a gain. It is a loss of innocence and peace and a gain of appreciation and perspective. Sometimes I try to remember what life felt like before skin cancer and breast cancer. I think there was more pettiness and more time spent on unimportant things. Now that I am reminded daily that time is limited, I like life a lot more. I thank God a lot more.
Melanoma. I now shield myself from the sun I used to bask in. I now hide from a sunny day. I also wonder how safe the chemicals in sunscreen products really are. Where does it stop? What is safe? Yes, I overthink. The truth is, I feel overexposed to cancer. I will fight and I won’t quit.