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Frightening Cancer Diagnosis? Survivor Says Keep Hope

What about hope? Donít kill hope. Breast cancer and melanoma survivor shares what helped at the time of diagnosis and early on in her cancer treatment.
PUBLISHED March 29, 2017
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.
To hear the three words, “You have cancer” stinks (I would really prefer a much stronger word). So, when I heard that (the first time), I remember thinking that I was dying quickly and awfully. What about the hope? Cancer changes everything. Cancer is big. There is no retreating from that moment. Your world has been changed without your permission. Still, there were some words of comfort that really helped me and I hope they comfort you.

My oncology talk therapist said, “We will get you through this.” I suddenly didn’t feel quite so isolated by my diagnosis. I learned that however big cancer was feeling to me, especially early on, cancer was something that I would get through. Cancer was finite. Cancer had limits.

A breast cancer support group meeting helped, too. A cancer survivor that day shared that a survivor friend of hers told her, “It is a tough year and half to two years, but then things start to get better.” Talk about getting a little perspective! 

It is true that cancer sometimes never leaves or sometimes it comes back, but I liked hearing that an end date or maybe just a long break were also possibilities. Hearing of an amount of time for cancer gives a window of hope shining brightly at the end of a very long, dark tunnel at the outset. 

So why? Why doesn’t a doctor with bad news hold your hand and say, “Yep, I know you are scared and we will get you through”? Why doesn’t a doctor say to you that cancer treatment can sometimes be finite? Even when there are quite a few surgeries and chemotherapy and other treatments, offer hope on the front end! Cancer often won’t be an immediate death sentence. It isn’t always a death sentence at all these days. There is hope. Let’s talk about hope. Let’s spread the word. Let’s spread hope.

Emotional upheaval and fear and isolation from cancer are real. That stuff could be acknowledged and handled better on the front end. Going through the physical pain of the cancer treatments is part of the deal, but why should cancer survivors suffer emotionally more than…Than what? Tough question. 

Each of us processes cancer differently and we all have slightly different cancer diagnoses. Still, how about some understanding and kindness on the front end? Hand the newly diagnosed the name and number of a talk therapist who helps cancer patients, and give folks the contact information for a cancer support group and maybe even connect them with a survivor further out in their treatment who would help a newbie? Connecting with people who “get it” is helpful and hopeful.

Each doctor handles things a little differently and it can’t be fun to deliver horrible news. However, when doctors try to get in and out quickly, the patient is left seeking comfort from family and friends or even the internet. A doctor should have some tools to address patients’ emotions--not just the disease. Right? Regardless how the doctor handled it, as a six-year two-time survivor, I want to encourage you to have hope and to keep hope.  
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