Cancer Was Not a Gift, But We Can Use it as an Opportunity


"I have grown as a person since becoming a cancer survivor," says breast cancer and melanoma survivor Barbara Tako.

Sometimes I can't believe that it has been almost eight years since my breast cancer diagnosis and four years since the melanoma on the opposite shoulder. I am happy and grateful to be here. Still, I am facing my upcoming prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction with some weariness and dread. I recently discovered that I have a genetic mutation (PALB2) that is prompting this additional treatment almost eight years out from my initial diagnosis. It is not my first time on the cancer rollercoaster, and it may not be my last. If nothing else positive has come from all of this, I still would say that cancer has helped me grow as a person. I will try to face my upcoming procedures with honesty and courage.

Cancer is a frightening diagnosis. It forces the question of legacy. How do I want to be remembered by my family and friends? The thoughts that come from often looking at my mortality can be used to improve myself to be kinder and gentler, wiser and more focused, to name a few directions.

I hope I am better at being kinder and gentler to the people around me and to myself. To give meaning to our lives, we can help the people around us. These people include family members, friends and even perfect strangers. It also includes being kinder to ourselves, in recognition of our own mortality and the startling revelation that we are really not as in control of our lives as we like to think that we are. If I want to take a nap, I take a nap. If I need to back off and take a breath, I do now.

For years, I taught and wrote about clutter clearing and household organizing. We live in a country that likes to buy stuff. But in the end, it is just stuff. Our hearts, minds, and souls and our relationships and interactions with others are so much more important than any thing we could acquire. Do you waste less time shopping since cancer? I know I do.

I am more deliberate since cancer. Our time, our life, is finite and I don't want to waste those moments of time. Hence, I don't watch nearly as much television as I used to or spend nearly as much time poking around on the internet. I even spend less time looking at my cell phone when I am around other people. Gasp! Life is too short. Cancer survivors are intimately aware of that. I want to spend my time interacting with the people in my life - conversing and giving hugs!

Everyone, cancer survivor or not, sometimes gets caught up in silly busyness. We all occasionally prioritize poorly. Cancer survivors are more aware when it happens, I think. We think about how we want to be remembered and what our legacy will be. Maybe that makes us quicker to recognize our responsibilities, not just our rights, in this world. I hope so, anyway. My family and friends deserve the best me that I can give them. I still fall on my face a lot and I try to work on doing better. Doing better includes honesty, effort and clear communication. What would you add based on your cancer experience? What opportunities do you see more clearly since cancer?

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