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Uncertainty: This Is Cancer's Horrible, Helpful Ongoing Consequence

Breast cancer and melanoma survivor ponders the heart of the cancer diagnosis--a lifetime of ongoing uncertainty.
PUBLISHED March 07, 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,or
As a cancer patient or survivor, there is a cancer-enhanced awareness of your own mortality and what might be lurking within your body. You live with constant nasty uncertainty. Will the cancer get me? When? How bad will it be? Long-term ongoing uncertainty is hard for people. We want to know. We want to be in control. When we think we know our life, we think we are in control of our life. Cancer, because it doesn’t always go away and because it sometimes comes back, takes away control.

People want to know. We want results and knowledge—like whether or not our medical tests show a problem. We want to know if we got the job we interviewed for. We want to know gender of the new baby. Did we get the home where we extended an offer? Certainty gives knowledge, which gives us power to act decisively. Every day people decide how they want to proceed based on certainty, and maybe it isn’t even real certainty, but it is based on feelings of certainty and knowledge of their own reality. People like to move forward and make plans.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, eats away at us. We don’t really know what our reality is. This unknowing generates stress and gives us constant doubt. Doubts create worries and worries create fear—an ongoing fear. Will or has the cancer come back? Uncertainty just wears people down. No one wants to live with long-term uncertainty, yet cancer survivors do just that.

The truth is that all people live with uncertainty. Some are just less aware of it than others. Having had cancer and living with ongoing fear of recurrence makes cancer survivors more aware of it on a daily, intimate and emotional level.

Cancer is really about getting through a very personal long-term difficult time and coping in the face of ongoing uncertainty. The advice in my book Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools is hard-won advice.

Here are a few cancer-coping tools that I researched and use:

Connect with others—Don’t go it alone, even if you are an introvert or loner.

Learn—Knowledge is power and helps you regain some measure of control.

Live in the moments—slow down the monkey brain (the racing thoughts).

Connect with nature—Nature pulls you into the present moment.

Keep your hands busy—Use any distraction that works for you, personally.

Show gratitude—Focus each day on what makes you grateful.

Uncertainty—Work on greater flexibility and learning to accept less control.

Use the uncertainty to work for you. Don't let it eat you up. Cross off the items on your bucket list now. Speak truth in your relationships now. What I really learned from uncertainty were coping tools that work for getting through many of life’s unhappy and uncertain times. These are useful tools. Don’t let uncertainty win. Master it and continue to move forward every moment of every day. I added to the number of coping tools in my tool bag to cope with cancer's uncertainty and you can, too!
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