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The Land of Make Believe: What Would Life Be Without Cancer

This breast cancer and melanoma survivor sometimes likes to pretend and ponder about what life would have been if she hadn't gotten cancer.
PUBLISHED February 13, 2018
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
I am having a sluggish day. I am missing my parents and I am worried about my upcoming double mastectomy with reconstruction and I just want all of it to go away. My cancers have changed my life in so many ways and for so many years. Sometimes, and I am not sure if this is fantasy or self-punishment, I like to think about what my life would have been without two different cancers. Maybe I would have been a star?

No, scratch that, not me, but maybe my book Clutter Clearing Choices would have done well because it would have gotten the marketing efforts it deserved. I got breast cancer just after Clutter Clearing Choices hit the book marketI was doing marketing with my publisher and publicist by sending out review copies and appearing on television, radio and in newspaper and magazine articles. I was excited that my household organization book was helping people and people liked it! You know what happened next: the phone call. Instead of marketing my book, I was having lumpectomy surgery, rounds of chemotherapy, consecutive days of radiation and then still more surgery. 

Do you ever wonder what would have happened in your life at certain points if you could have or would have made different choices? Or, what would have happened to your life if cancer hadn’t appeared the moment that it did? It is the proverbial story of that large fish that got away. Over time, maybe the fish gets bigger than what it really was? I still remember my “big chance.” It would have been a television interview on “View from the Bay” with Spencer Christian (from Good Morning America) and Janelle Wang. “View from the Bay” back then was right before Oprah. Would it have made the difference? Who knows? I had cancer to get through instead of a big television interview.

My book sales tapered off while I was going through and recovering from cancer treatment. I kept writing, this time about cancer, but I quit marketing and the optimal window for marketing my first book, the first year, quickly closed while I tried to regain my balance. Maybe Superwoman could have done both, but I sure couldn’t. It is depressing, as an author, to realize that you could have written the best book in the world, but if no one knows about it, no one will read it.

I did a lot of research and journaling as I went through my breast cancer and my second cancer, a melanoma. Sometimes I remember thinking that the sadness, worry and fear were actually worse to manage than the physical treatments. Part of what my journal became was a collection of cancer reflections and tools that I learned about to help me cope with the difficult emotions of a cancer diagnosis. Using this information, I researched and wrote, Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools, my second book, for cancer survivors and their loved ones. I figured the best way to make lemonade out of lemons was to share information that would be helpful to fellow cancer survivors. We help each other. Right. 

Miraculously, my original publisher and my original publicist were willing to go a second round with me. John Hunt Publishing commented that they could see why Clutter Clearing Choices had done so well but then quickly slowed. Ascot Media, my publicist, was also amazing and agreed to help promote Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools with me. I was humbled and grateful by both of their responses to me.

Now that life simplifying is back in the public eye (this happens every 10 years or so), I can’t help playing the “what if” game a little bit. I feel differently about my second book. If Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools has helped just one person with cancer, then that matters more to me than helping a larger audience weed out their closets and cupboards. In fact, I will say right here, if you have just heard those awful words, “You have cancer” and you can’t afford a print or online form of my book, reach out to me. I will make sure that a copy reaches you. And tell me, do you ever wonder what life would have been like if you hadn’t gotten cancer? Thanks for listening on a bad day.

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