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Empty Nest After Cancer

A two-time cancer survivor, breast cancer and melanoma, discusses the empty nest process and cancer.
PUBLISHED April 08, 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
Life, even after surviving two cancers, is good. Breast cancer was over six years ago and my melanoma was two years ago. As a survivor, don’t you just love to read and hear about cancer survivors who are further out from their diagnoses than you are? It is awesome to look back and say “Hey, I am still here!” 

Now my two daughters are pretty much out of the house. Though happy for them, some days I am a little sad, too. My husband and I have both made job changes, and we are selling our home for a smaller one as we enjoy time “up north” at a weekend cabin.

All this makes us pretty officially empty nesters. Cancer and life changes are creating losses. I try to acknowledge the losses and to celebrate and look forward to some of the changes too. It is hard to process as we go through it. Being an empty nester changes so many things — large and small, like how we eat, how we spend time, our relationships, what our plans are — everything. Since cancer, I try to remember that control is illusory but sometimes that is difficult.

I do wonder what our life will look like in the next few years. Do we change too much too quickly? Are we being reactive instead of proactive? These are things I think are worth pondering.

Sometimes I wonder what life would have looked like if I hadn’t gotten breast cancer and then a melanoma. Would I be braver or more cautious? Cancer can confuse what is part of normal aging and normal empty nesting and what is different because of my cancers. Some questions about stuff like this are things cancer survivors never truly know. What memory loss is chemotherapy related? What fatigue and physical decline is due to cancer and its treatment? How much of my perspective are due to “normal” maturity versus my cancer experiences? I just don’t know.

I gain perspective when I talk to people in my age or to fellow cancer survivors, yet we can never completely walk in each other’s shoes. We make our life decisions based on our own values and experiences and it can be helpful to hear how others have worked through this.

Many of us have learned a lot from our cancers. It is not an education I would really want anyone to have, but those of us that this has happened to have learned. I hope we have a better life perspective, more gratitude and appreciation, and a greater desire to help other people.

Empty nesting after cancer survivorship: Time seems to fly faster and faster even though I try to slow it down and live in the moment. Living in the moment, helping others, and practicing gratitude seem like good choices at this point. Looking too far down the road is just futile and sometimes frightening. What are your experiences?
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