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On Cancer and Facing Death Bravely

Two-time cancer survivor says lets look death and dying in the face so we don't live our lives in (as much) fear.
When my mom found out her prognosis, she said, “Let the party begin.” I was with her and I cried. She said she wasn’t losing someone she loved—I was.  I don’t think she felt she had any unresolved business at that point. She set an example that helps me be more honest and loving with the people around me in the time that I have. I won’t always do well. I am human, but I will try harder. 

Practice gratitude to have the ability to be grateful rather than grief-filled in those final days. The truth is, relative to the whole world, I have been blessed with a very nice life. As one of my friends always says when I ask how are you, the response always is, “better than I deserve.” Isn’t that really so true? Most of us have so much to be grateful for in spite of having had one or more cancers and other life issues.

When my time comes, I hope I will try to remember that and to focus on that. My grandfather often told me in his final years, “I’m satisfied.”

Death can teach us to slow life down where we can, prioritize better and live deliberately. Simply put, ponder death to make the best choices we can each and every day we have.

What tools help us prepare?  Yoga and meditation and living in the moment, and living deeply and deliberately—especially in each and every encounter with the people around us.  I also continue to add to my bucket list and to cross items off the list as well.

Most importantly, keep faith. Whatever your belief system is, hang onto it, grow it and accept comfort from it. I read. I pray. I talk to God (sometimes I whine or yell). I endeavor to create stillness inside me where sometimes I hear quiet answers.

Honestly, none of these thoughts may comfort when you can’t sleep in the middle of the night. Right now, I am grateful that I am not facing end-of-life issues today. I really don’t know what a terminal diagnosis feels like. Still, each time I briefly face these worries and spend some time thinking them, I become stronger for it.

The practice of facing the fear and uncertainty is helpful to me and feels more honest than trying to put my head in the sand. Though naïve probably compared to people with advanced cancer, it is the best I can do with my lingering fear of recurrence. It is like exercise. With practice, a muscle grows stronger. Honestly, I need the practice.  

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
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.
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