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I Am Sorry for Being a Bad Cancer Role Model

Breast cancer survivors says that even though cancer is big, scary and demanding, it never justifies bad behavior as a person.
PUBLISHED March 06, 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
It is tough to talk about how unhappy I am about how I handled my breast cancer seven years ago, but now I get sort of a second chance with my upcoming prophylactic double mastectomy.

I was a bad sport and spoiled brat about my cancer. Honestly, many cancer survivors have probably handled their cancer diagnosis more graciously than I did. The sky was falling! The sky was falling! Well, I was actually pretty fortunate as far as the type of cancer I had, and it really wasn't falling, but I acted as though it was.

Some of us need more help than others to get pulled through their cancer experience. Some people are simply more graceful or experienced with cancer going into their diagnosis. I was terrible with my breast cancer diagnosis – my first cancer diagnosis – at age 46. Everyone encounters problems in the course of life, be it with cancer or something else, like deaths of loved ones, employment difficulties, relationship problems, health problems, all of it.

Frankly, I believe others can rise higher than I did. At 46, I was very self-centered and fairly inexperienced with the serious curve balls that life throws at people. I wish I had been better at helping the people around me. Especially with my belief system, loving family, caring friends, awesome medical team, talk therapist and breast cancer support group, I wish I had managed my cancer more graciously.

I did a thorough job trying to take care of me, but I wasn't looking at the impact of my diagnosis and treatments on my family. I have a lot of regret. I have apologized, but the damage I caused was done. While I created a medical team and emotional support team for me, I did not think about my teenagers and husband. I was selfish with my friends. I look back now, and it is frightening and shameful.

I wish I had been clearer to my family about what I was feeling and why I was feeling it. I would have discussed fear of dying and something I could barely realize myself – my emotions were really getting whacked out by my prescribed pre-chemotherapy steroids, as well as the chemotherapy treatments.

Does it matter that I have since apologized? Maybe a little, but not a lot. Like I said, this is a cautionary tale. Even though cancer is big, scary and demanding, it never justifies bad behavior as a person. I learned that life lesson the hard way. Please learn from my shame. I resolve to go through my upcoming prophylactic double mastectomy procedures with as much grace and courage as I can muster. My loved ones and friends deserve that.

I was not a good model the first time around. I will work hard to do better this time. I believe as human beings, we can experience tough times authentically and try to be a good model for those around us. I could have made my cancer time count better. I know that now.

When I was diagnosed a few years later with an unrelated melanoma, I did better. I was no longer a newbie. I knew how the process worked and I knew pretty early, based on type, stage, and grade, that again, I was pretty fortunate in an unfortunate situation.

Still, I wish I had been better prepared to hear my first cancer diagnosis. Maybe it depends on family history and life experiences up to the moment of a cancer diagnosis. Inborn and life-created emotional makeup, and that wonderful quality I continue to work to develop called resilience play a part too. Most of us have bad things happen to us at some point in our lives. In my mind I keep coming back to the thought that it is how we handle those bad things that counts in life. So, I am requesting that you think about what you want to model and offer to the world as you go through your own cancer experience. I am not saying you can't be sad, frightened, and forever changed by cancer. I just think we have an opportunity to learn from each other's mistakes, and I hope you may learn from mine.

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