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Reflections From A Survivor Lucky Enough To Be There

Breast cancer and melanoma survivor comments on downsizing from a cancer survivor's perspective.
PUBLISHED August 15, 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.
I am derailed as a cancer survivor and a grieving cancer caregiver. My mom, after three battles with breast cancer followed by hospice care, passed away in June (my dad passed away several years ago). In addition, my husband and I downsized our home, that is to say we moved to a different house, in the midst of her final weeks. Awful timing.  Still, downsizing and parents dying are part of life – and death.

As an adult, I honestly never wished so hard that I hadn’t been an only child. It is hard to lose the last parent. I know I am not an orphan. I am a child of God. With time and faith, I believe my life as a seven-year cancer survivor will get better. Still, I find myself grieving, reflecting and trying to figure out where to go from here.

After the move, as a clutter clearing speaker/author, I weed through boxes. I am weeding through my own “treasures” and boxes of my mom’s “treasures” as well. I want to keep the memories, but I don’t want to store lots of stuff—mine or hers. Sometimes I take photographs. Sometimes I just let go. Sometimes my feelings are just too raw to peel back all the layers at once—especially with my mom’s possessions. Many of these items include memories of my dad, too. I feel like weeding through her boxes, hastily packed to release her apartment back to the assisted living building, is like finding treasure at times and at other times, it feels like a personal violation of her privacy.  

I found the original metal turtle that started Mom's extensive turtle collection and was the basis for the first article I ever published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. This turtle held some of her sewing buttons when I was growing up and it is a keeper. I find photographs of younger and happier versions of both my parents—when they graduated from school, when they wed. These photos make me smile and think happier thoughts than when I recall their final days. Sometimes I find cards, letters and pictures of people I don’t know or recognize. Keeping those makes no sense and yet there is a tug at my heart as I recycle and realize I am tossing someone else’s past. It is too late to ask questions now.

What can you do about your own physical and mental clutter? You could do nothing and just chalk up these ideas as the sad thoughts of a grieving survivor-minimalist. Or, you could spend an hour weeding out some of your own stuff that you realize will not be meaningful down the road to younger family members. Or, you could go visit or call one of those parents or grandparents and ask questions or dig out the photo albums and ask them questions to capture memories, not stuff, while they are living and you have the opportunity! 

I know it truly is time to lighten up. Minimalism has usually felt good to me. There are a lot of changes happening in a short period of time—down-sizing, empty-nesting and moving forward to life’s next chapters. I believe that it is easier to move forward when less encumbered by the stuff of the past. I will journal the memories and let go of much of the stuff. If you can spare a moment, please share your thoughts, as a cancer survivor, on parents’ passing and household downsizing. Thank you.
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