If cancer hadn't happened to me, what would I be like? Have you ever asked yourself that?
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.
Sometimes I just wish cancer had never happened to me. I understand that I am not special. I understand that the correct question is “Why not me?” rather than “Why me?” Still, cancer has had permanent residence in my brain for over seven years now and sometimes I am just weary of it. What helps?
I remind myself that while I need to be observant and continue follow-ups, I can control the size of the property that cancer owns in my brain. I can consciously choose to think about other things and do other activities that are not cancer-related. I have the wonderful, beautiful powers of choice and redirection. Cancer may own a small cottage with a fenced yard in a tiny corner of my brain, but I won’t let it have a castle or a farm in there. When cancer tries to buy up more land, I shut it down.
Still, I wonder what it would be like not to have cancer worry and fear of recurrence living in my brain in its tiny cottage. Honestly, I would not have been a better person. I probably would have been a more selfish and self-focused human being. I am not great now, but I would have been worse. Many survivors reach out to support each other and other people who have concerns because we understand what it is like to cope with a long-term concern that never completely goes away. We get it. We face every day with that small cottage in the back of our brain.
The 24/7 existence of that small cottage has helped me improve my patience. Cancer survivors wait a lot—for the doctor appointment, for the test results, for treatment improvements, and, especially, for cancer not to return. It is strange to live my life waiting for something not to happen. Patience is not a skill many of us work to develop. Our society is big on instant gratification but poor at living in the moment. Odd.
That small cottage helps me appreciate things more. I take nothing for granted. Every day is a gift. I notice the small stuff—the softness of my dog’s ears, the leaves turning in the trees, the birds at the feeder, the knick-knack I purchased on vacation, a warm cup of coffee. I am grateful for so much more that I literally wouldn’t have seen or I would have taken for granted. While I notice small aches and pains more, I also appreciate pain-free moments more too.
Life still would have happened even if cancer hadn’t purchased a cottage in my brain. In some ways, I feel like I cope with life’s little problems better. I can do this because compared to “C,” a lot of problems are smaller and more fixable. Perspective. Cancer helped improve my perspective.
Some days “C” opens the cottage door, walks across her tiny yard, opens her gate, and steps out. When “C” pulls this stunt, I have options. Sometimes “C” and I have a conversation. “C” can never be completely ignored. Sometimes I persuade “C” to go back into the cottage by making a doctor appointment or doing a little research. Other times, I just need to be firmer with “C” and let her know that now is not a good time.