Why did I react so differently from my family? Itís hard to put into words, but other survivors would just get it.
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.
Life is good. Really. Even though I’ve had both breast cancer and melanoma, I am not sitting around waiting for cancer to return. I work, read, write, swim, fish and ride ATVs, to name a few things. Sometimes though, something unexpected happens, and that brings that fear of recurrence right up to the top of my mind.
When I recently broke my foot by falling and landing on it wrong, it stirred up other thoughts, too. I was worried about healing properly. Cancer entered my mind again. I went from doing the “cancer look” after losing my hair, to sporting the look of someone with a foot injury with my boot. I was standing out when I would rather blend in with everyone else.
I would love to have a discussion with loved ones about these recent feelings, but it feels like something I can’t always have. They don’t want the reminder. I get it.
I get that my loved ones want cancer out of our lives. I want it gone, too. I get that they are probably bored and tired of my cancer thoughts and experiences. But I also get that my husband has a better grasp of everything happening than younger family members. He understands that the worry is still in there. He understands that sometimes I am less resilient when there is a health issue because of what I went through in the past.
I remember when we were worried that our dog exposed herself to the blue-green algae sickness that could kill her. I remember my husband was angry that someone wasn’t keeping a better eye on the dog. I remember a daughter who was sad and worried. I remember being strangely calm.
Why was I calm? I think because it wasn’t me, and my reality is living with about an 85 percent chance that I will be fine or a 15 percent chance that I won’t be, between my breast cancer and melanoma. Cancer survivors get this. For me, the odds for the dog looked better than that. When I tried to explain this to my family to calm them down and give them perspective, they didn’t understand. Honestly, I think they thought I was trying to turn the family spotlight away from the dog and back to me. But that was not the case at all. I love our dog and I would have been devastated if she got sick.
As a survivor, you get it. But I ended up feeling misunderstood and alone. It was a moment of separation from my family and I was helpless. I should have held my tongue.
But all of this made me grateful that we, as survivors, are out there for each other, both in person and on the Internet. Sometimes you just need to be able to relate to somebody who has been there.
I talked to my husband about that incident later that day to try to clarify. I remember he said, “I honestly don’t know what you go through every day. I hope time softens it for you.”
Frankly, I wouldn’t want him to know what it was like every day. As other survivors know, some days are better than others. My husband is right: time does soften it, but it is still there. Fear of recurrence will be there for the rest of my life. Fellow cancer survivors understand.
People who haven’t been there just don’t get it. It isn’t that I dwell on it daily, it is just that I wanted to use my experience for good to help my family members by sharing a different perspective. It didn’t work, and ultimately, I am glad they can’t understand those feelings at a gut-emotional level.
Now I try to cope with my broken foot and the whispers in the back of my mind. So, when something stirs up a worry, I say be gentle with yourself when your emotions get stirred up, like before a doctor appointment or for a non-related medical issue. Second, stay connected enough to fellow survivors so that you can check in and share experiences for some understanding that comes only from personally experiencing what we have experienced.