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.
Some call it scanxiety. A cancer survivor discusses waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
Something changed in me forever. A tightness dropped smack into the middle of my chest at the moment of my first cancer diagnosis and it never left. Ugh. Go away! It is past time for you to leave. I want to lose the fear and anxiety that sits like a lump in the middle of my chest and nibbles at the edge of my thoughts most days. Go away!
Sometimes this fear is brought into a sharper focus-like on days I have a doctor exam or a test or am waiting for a pathology report. Ugh. I have been through this again and again. Go away, or at least lighten up! Come on. Some call this scanxiety or white coat syndrome. I just think of it as me since cancer.
There is a little bit of nausea. True peace of mind has been so elusive these months and years following diagnosis. It is ridiculous to wait for bad news, but here I am. "Wait and watch" is just plain yucky.
This time I am choosing to be proactive. I am getting a prophylactic double mastectomy. Still, I already dread waiting for the lab results after the upcoming surgeries. Again, I will be waiting to worry. However, opting to remove my breasts will, hopefully, significantly reduce my future worry. Maybe that lump in the middle of my chest will get smaller?
The odds of a new breast cancer or a recurrence go down significantly after a prophylactic double mastectomy, and I will have the personal knowledge that I did everything humanly possible at this moment in time to stop cancer from entering my life and the life of my family again. I am trying to do the best thing that I can.
Yes, there will be more scars. Yes, I am tired of "procedures." And I just want to move forward. I want to get on with living life rather than worrying if I will continue to have the opportunity to live. I want that feeling in the middle of my chest to go away or at least be significantly reduced.
Waiting for the surgeries is difficult. In my mind, I hear my dear friend telling me to be "gentle with myself." Sometimes I don't even know what that means. Right? Life continues even though my worry brain has kicked in because of my PALB2 genetic abnormality finding and my upcoming surgeries. It is rational to be concerned. It is irrational to let myself be consumed. Argh. Back to balance and perspective and trying to keep hope.
Engage in positive self-talk. I tell myself to trust in God. I remind myself that this is just part of life. I say to my worry brain that I will get through it. Yes, I will drag myself forward if I have to do that. I will not kick myself for feeling worried. I am allowed. I am allowed.
Reach out to others who "get" it. Anyone who has had cancer "gets" it. They understand. Their compassion and support counts more than anything because they truly understand that lump in the middle of my chest because they have one of their own. I deeply appreciate the friends who understand. It is important to feel less alone in this situation.
Be proactive. Still, I will have to wait for lab results to know for sure if my body has been trying to kill me again. Two dear friends have already mentioned their t-shirts that say, "Of course I cut them off, they tried to kill me."
Never give up. Some days go better than others. I will get through. I am not on this journey alone, and I am grateful for that. This isn't my first rodeo with cancer and it may not be my last and life goes on.