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Cancer Stress and Coping With Change

Cancer survivor notices difficulty with changes and transitions since cancer.
PUBLISHED October 20, 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.
This summer/fall was not my favorite. My mom passed away, we downsized homes, we dealt with family member health issues and at the end of summer, I broke two bones in my foot and needed surgery and a knee boot at least until November. None of this, except maybe the foot, was cancer-related. Life and death happened. Stuff happens.

Though I tried to be proactive and positive through this stuff, there have been tears and sadness. I am an adult only child. Mom was my last surviving parent. I miss her every day. As a cancer survivor, good and bad changes are harder to manage. I feel raw and vulnerable.

There is this desire in me to grab the ferris wheel of life and slow things down. Things feel off and I want time to catch up. I have boxes of my mom’s things and our things from the move that I have not had time to sort—lots of boxes. The feelings and the boxes weigh on me in the back of my mind. I would like to go through cupboards and closets where things were hastily tossed during the move. I want to deeply clean our home, but I am hobbled by the knee boot for my broken foot. There are painting projects and de-cluttering and window covering tasks to address.

I think multi-tasking and change are harder for cancer survivors or maybe chemotherapy survivors? Feeling more fragile since cancer? Here are some coping tools that I use:

Take breaks. I am grateful for my laptop computer and Netflix shows when I need a break. I feel worn down and tired. It is hard to deal with all the emotions. Small bites. Bit by bit, I will get through all this. I believe life will get better and we will move forward from all these changes.

Proceed in a meaningful way. The older I get, the more I want to spend my time at mindful work not just “busyness.” I want to live consciously, preciously.

Keep optimism. Optimism is important. I won’t live the remainder of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. Life always will drop shoes. The goal is to live life joyfully between shoe drops and work through the shoe drops honestly. Staying in our old home would have been like trying to live in the past. We have made new friends in our new neighborhood and I look forward to continuing this process.

Face forward. Life will always require changes—that is the only constant. We are charged with working to create positive changes and to move forward to new adventures. I am learning to loosen my tight grasp of things I can’t control anyway. Practice patience. This is underrated in our instant-gratification world. I know I don’t do change well and I get to practice this skill. I am not patient, waiting for it all to sort out, and I get to practice this skill. I miss my old home and I know people are always more important than place.

Don’t take everyone personally. If someone doesn’t smile at us or cuts us off, too many of us take it too personally. Usually the way people around us behave has more to do with them than us. They have their own damage and inner turmoil to work on. My therapist once said “Dance like nobody is watching because they aren’t—they are on their cell phone.”

We will have new adventures wherever else we land in life. There is much to make us sad and much for us to celebrate. I am learning to embrace the duality of life. Sometimes silence is lonely and sometimes it is sacred space. We are all works in progress.

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