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Cancer Survivorship in an Empty Nest

Cancer survivor comments on life in an emptying nest.
PUBLISHED October 26, 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.
Hey, I am still here. It is good to be here. Life is good. My breast cancer happened just over seven years ago and my melanoma was just over three years ago. I love hear about cancer survivors who are even further out from their initial diagnoses than I am – don’t you? Sometimes I just enjoy looking back and saying, “Hey look, I am still here!” and I hope it offers hope and encouragement to fellow survivors who haven’t been out here as long.

My children were in our household when I went through my cancers. Now our household has changed since our children are now adults. My husband had a job change, and we sold our home and moved into a smaller one. We are empty nesters.

Life is about loss and change. I try to process the losses and celebrate the changes. Some days I do this better than other days. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have completely processed everything, or maybe I am processing it all now, as we go through it. Being an empty nester changes a lot of things — how we eat (we eat out more), how we spend our time (we have hobbies that replace our parenting activities), our marriage (conversation is about more than the kids), what our plans are (bucket list for travel). Basically, everything is different. Now I only do laundry once a week! The food I stock up on isn’t “kid food.”

Now we buy fewer groceries, and have emptier rooms, closets and cupboards. We work more on unplugging ourselves from the television in the evenings and find other shared hobbies or we simply “parallel play” in the same room—fewer food commercials and more productive and active behaviors are good.

My children have been out now for about two years. I wonder what our life will look like further down the road. Maybe we changed too much too fast? I want to be proactive rather than reactive, but I don’t want to flit about just for the sake of flitting. Some days, I just don’t know.

What would my life have been, now at age 54, if I hadn’t gotten breast cancer at 46 and melanoma at 51? What are normal aging and empty-nesting processes, and what is different because of the cancer? Would I still be working full-time if cancer hadn’t happened twice?  Sometimes we never truly know.

How much of my memory loss is chemotherapy related? How much of my fatigue and physical decline is due to cancer, its treatment, and its physical and mental toll? Maybe it doesn’t really matter? My perspective on life has changed in many ways. Which changes are “normal” maturity versus my cancer survivorship experience?

Ultimately, do these questions even really matter? Yes. I want to know which issue I am coping with. As humans, I think we like to know why. It is helpful when I talk to people in my age bracket and to fellow cancer survivors. Though those conversations are helpful and reassuring, we can never really completely walk in each other’s shoes. Each of us is an individual with our own unique experiences. Each of us makes our decisions based on our own values and resources and still it is helpful to hear how others have gotten through all of this.

Cancer survivorship with empty nesting and aging—time flies faster and faster even as I try to slow down and live in the moments. Do you feel it too? I try my best to live in each moment and I actively practice gratitude. It doesn’t make sense to look too far down the road when it can just feel futile and frightening. Please share your thoughts!

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