Cancer survivor is happy to not be the center of so much attention and to move her own attention elsewhere after cancer.
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.
When diagnosed with cancer for the first time, I was blessed to have a lot of support. I watched family members, friends and church members go out of their way to help me. I was grateful for all of the help and attention. Every bit of it helped me, and in a weird way, every bit of it reinforced in my mind what a big, awful, terrible thing the big “C” was and how terrible it was that cancer had happened to me. Chemotherapy was difficult. Surgeries took their toll. Radiation was exhausting. Lingering worry is still and forever more a daily companion. If you are a survivor or the loved one of a survivor, you know the drill.
As I got farther out from active treatment, however, I started to think about my selfishness. Don’t get me wrong, cancer is a big deal—a life-changer at best and a life-taker at worst. The truth was that I was definitely more self-focused during treatment, and I definitely noticed when all the attention went away after active treatment (surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation) had ended.
As I recovered and healed and moved forward with the rest of life, I looked around me with different eyes--hopefully more compassionate eyes. Here is what I saw: Some things were and are worse than my cancers. For starters, there are worse cancers and cancer treatments than I experienced, but that is just the beginning. There are other worse things that anyone could experience—extended job loss, the death of a child, collapsed relationships and severe unaddressed mental illnesses that rock families to their core to name just a few. Life is hard. Nobody escapes struggles. It really is all very relative. Observing that truth put my cancer in a different position in my head. It was time to reprioritize and time to move forward.
My life really wasn’t all about me. For me, I decided we are put here to help each other—to treat each other every day with as much compassion as we can. My life is about more than just me and my little wish lists. Life is about connecting with and helping others. I can always change what I say or do to help people around me just a little bit more, whether I am with family, friends, co-workers or strangers. Every day offers opportunities for me to say and do better when interacting with other people.
Maybe that sounds trite or corny. Plus, I know for a fact that I still mess up. A lot. I still get self-focused or tired or angry or any of a number of other things. I am a long way from being the best me I can be. My cancers were tough to get through and manage. My cancers stunk.
There was another side to it, however, in retrospect. Maybe I am saying that it took getting cancer to refocus and prioritize better. My cancers were a wake-up call, a nudge to point me in a better direction. I won’t say that I am grateful for cancer or that cancer was a gift. No and definitely not. I will say that having cancer showed me that I can make better choices, better choices each and every day that I have.