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'Just Keep Swimming' Through Cancer

Cancer survivor encourages fellow survivors to keep on swimming through their cancer experience.
PUBLISHED September 23, 2016
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.
Cancer survivors don’t quit. In the Disney movie "Finding Nemo," there is a little fish named Dory with a short-term memory problem. I don’t want to say how often I walk into a room and then forget why I am there! Chemobrain? To stay calm and to keep going in spite of the forgetfulness that sometimes makes the world a very frightening place, Dory regularly chants, "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming." Dory is absolutely right. If she can do it, we cancer survivors can too.

When I am weary and worn down, I think of Dory and many of us who want to be more like her. Is your cancer weighing you down? Dory’s approach requires only one thing: persistence. Dory is persistent. Persistence is an underrated but much needed quality, especially if you are a patient or survivor of cancer.

Sometimes I momentarily fail. I know body weight is important as a survivor, and I often seem to be working it. I am not able to say I lost a lot of body clutter yet. In fact, I am behind schedule and my original goal may not be realistic, but that isn't the point. I can work on being persistent. I can keep recommitting. The same thought applies to cancer survivorship. We need to get through. We can recognize that getting through cancer is a process and that things may improve when we simply continue to stick with it little by little.

One book that helps me to stay on task is Rick Warren's New York Times bestseller "The Purpose Driven Life." Warren's book suggests that self-help can't always be found with navel gazing and internal analysis. He says since moods and emotions can fluctuate frequently, we would be wise not to base our long-term beliefs, decisions and life behaviors on them. Warren states that if we know God's purpose for us, then decisions become simplified, stress is reduced and we can achieve greater focus in our lives. If your faith is helping you cope with cancer, this book may be helpful to you.

My 99-year-old grandpa phrased it another way, "It doesn't matter if you lose the battle; you want to win the war. In fact, you can lose every battle, and it doesn't matter, as long as you win the war."

He was talking about this in the context of creating a long successful marriage, but I think it can apply to cancer survivorship and virtually everything else in life — even death. Keep the big picture in mind.

Persistence allows for flexibility and moments when we stumble. It keeps us focused on the long-term goal while working away at our obstacles in small bites. The trick is to slowly develop the muscle or willpower to keep going back to the task. It is hard develop this in our rapid-paced instant-gratification society, especially when we can do things in seconds on our computers, laptops and cellphones.

A quote I like is: "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope ..." Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)

Keep hope. It is OK and so very human to momentarily quit. It is realistic and so real to have lapses. Don't quit when you have had a bad day, week, month or year. Keep whittling away at it and you will get through it, even when that "it" is cancer.
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