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Being Comfortable in Your Skin After Cancer

Cancer survivor shares ideas about how to live again in your own skin during and after cancer diagnosis.
PUBLISHED November 08, 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,or
My goal during cancer was to be comfortable living in my own skin. A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing and frightening diagnosis—the idea of something growing in my body that could kill me, something that could come back at any time is scary. How am I truly supposed to be able to live in my own skin? Cancer, besides trying to kill us, causes fear of recurrence, worry, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cancer survivorship can be a celebration of life, but it is not without its very real never-ending dark side. Here is how I cope with my dark side.

Attitude. How does a glass-is-half-empty girl, even before cancer, become a glass-is-half-full girl instead? I refuse to paste on a fake smile or a plastic attitude. I continually train myself to look for and acknowledge the positive things—there are always a few around me. I also try to limit the negatives, and if that means reading less news and not engaging in scary or gory books or shows, so be it. It is impossible to un-see, un-hear or unread things, once they are “in there.” Be choosey about what you expose your mind to.

Humor. Humor can be everything from irony to stand-up comedy, funny well-written sit-coms, good quotes and jokes – whatever makes you smile and laugh. We truly take ourselves way too seriously. Thank goodness no one else does! Find and make opportunities to lighten up and to laugh. It is good for us!

Acknowledgement. I acknowledge and work through the dark feelings when they happen. For me, fully feeling those fears is the only way to work through them. Sometimes, I say I’ll acknowledge them later, but then I do work through them when they come up again—and they always do. Fear is not always a bad thing—sometimes it motivates us to see a doctor or ask for a test or do a little reading from a reputable medical source.

Companionship. Do not go cancer alone, even if you are a loner. I have said that before and I will keep saying it. Reach out to fellow cancer patients and survivors, support groups—in person and online – friends, family and medical folks. Communicate what you are feeling. You are not alone, even when you struggle to live in your own skin.

Time. Though it sounds trite to hear it during active treatment or right after active treatment, time does heal. Life moves on as you log more and more days of cancer survivorship, and that is a wonderful thing. Work on persistence and patience. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself the gift of time.

The world. Call it God, the universe or nature, or simply a recognition of how small a piece each of us truly is within the overall puzzle. Cultivate a belief system that is the rational truth: You are not in charge. Despite our greatest efforts or highest attention to detail or our planning and preparedness, things in life, like cancer, will happen. Ironically, I have found that letting go of my perceived control helps me feel more in control. There is actually some peace and comfort to be found in not being in charge.

Comments and actions of those around us. Remember that the way people treat us says more about them and their experiences than it does about us. Take others’ actions and words less personally. Do not give others the power to hurt, anger or neglect you. What they say and do is always more about them than you. Hold that in your heart with each and every contact with people that you have. Stay calm and carry on. You can do this!
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