Breast cancer and melanoma survivor gets out of her thoughts by getting outdoors and re-prioritizing her life.
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.
I just returned from a bucket-list trip—six countries in Europe over the past month. As a two-time cancer survivor, I am grateful and awed. The distraction that travel provides from cancer worry brain is good, and the world seems like both a bigger place and a smaller place than I had imagined before this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I have also been enjoying riding my ATV outside this fall. I feel like I see colors and textures I didn’t bother to notice before – before cancer.
Life is more appreciated by me now. I am not saying life is all rosy and pink—any cancer survivor, including me, will tell you it isn’t. I don’t forget about my breast cancer and melanoma experiences when I travel or go outside, but these activities help me feel calmer about facing the inevitable that all humans face. Yes, I mean death. As a bit of a control freak, I find comfort in realizing how tiny I really am both in the world and in human history. It is OK. It is even good.
Cancer has improved my perspective. It helps me focus on the important stuff and not get too worked up about the rest of it. Fearing for the end of my existence steers me toward asking the important question: What do I want to do with the time I have left? I definitely spend more time consciously pondering that question these days.
Cancer survivorship makes me ask myself tough questions about all aspects of my life. I ponder everything from the mundane, like how do I really want to spend my time today, to my faith and spirituality, and everything in-between. How do I want earn my income? What do I want my relationships to look like? What are my passions? What do I want to do in my “spare” time? Does any cancer survivor really have spare time? I don’t think so.
The hard, frightening and awful questions are out there, too. Will either of my cancers come back? Will I develop a new cancer? What, if anything, should or could I be doing about those dreaded possibilities? I really don’t like “should.” “Should” is too harsh. Heck, sometimes even the “could” beats me up. Cancer worry brain can look like this.
To cope with my worry brain, I try to gently pursue my passions in all life areas. One that helps me get “outside of myself” a lot is getting outdoors, even when that is just looking through a window. I make a mindfulness meditation out of it by noticing and then mentally listing all the details I see. This exercise seems to enhance my appreciation of nature and calm down those cancer worry brain times.
Focusing on helping others rather than focusing on me helps my cancer worry brain, too. Can you do something nice for someone else? Maybe it is as simple as reaching out with a phone call or baking something good. Lots of attention during active cancer treatment can contribute to the feeling that it is all about me. Well, it’s not.
When self-focused spinning around in my head thoughts try to entangle me, I sometimes mentally run through the people in my life and try to figure out what I can do for someone else. Ironically, it helps me, too. What do you do for cancer worry brain? What activities have you added to your mental toolbox to cope with it? Please share so we can all help each other!