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.
Two-time cancer survivor discusses why sometimes she still has wine or cocktails.
Well, what is the answer? I am trying to find a balance with alcohol. Does consuming alcohol really matter to me? Yes, even knowing that it contributes to cancer! In high school, I was a "good" kid. I didn't smoke. I didn't do drugs. I rarely drank. Maybe that is part of why now, as an adult, I do want to blend in with pack - even after the pack has had a couple of drinks. I have tried to blend with "fake" drinks, but then I discovered that maybe I especially want to blend in with the pack after everyone is more relaxed and cheerier. Is it wrong? Especially as a cancer survivor, I just want to feel relaxed and cheerier, too.
Sometimes I participate in drinking to feel the connectedness (whether real or imagined) with my friends. I even recognize that the dull haze may be merely a semblance of a connection, and yes, I do know more and more studies show that alcohol, even in small amounts, can cause cancer. Clearly there are other ways to find connectedness with people, and yet socializing while drinking remains a pretty big part of our culture.
Let's go back to connectedness. That is what we each individually want and often collectively fail to achieve. Cancer creates instant isolation. We are no longer part of "the pack." We want back in, even if it is just back in with each other as fellow cancer survivors. We also want to blend back in with our families and friends. I know alcohol is like playing with fire. I could get burned, again. Occasional alcohol consumption gives me a normalcy that I crave.
Logically, while coping with fear of recurrence, it makes better sense not to drink. I suppose, like anything, the choice to drink after cancer versus the fear of alcohol contributing to another cancer, is on a continuum. At one end, some cancer survivors never touch another drop and then there is the other end of that spectrum. I am probably somewhere in the middle. I quit drinking for a year the first time I was diagnosed with cancer - breast cancer. After a year or so, I gradually let alcohol back into my life. I wanted that sense of normalcy, at least some of the time.
A few years later, I did not reduce my alcohol consumption when I got a melanoma on my shoulder. For me, there was additional separation from the pack; I now had to be careful when out in the sun with friends and family. I did not want to be the only pale one, so sometimes I used a fake tanning product and cringed at the chemicals it contained. I recently found a fake tan product that claims to be "natural," so I am hoping I can now look tan and still be safer.
It is probably human nature, especially as cancer survivors, that we do not always want to feel different or to look different. Ironically, now I am trying to lose weight, so I choose to reduce my alcohol consumption this time because of the calories. Yep, this time I want to get back to a more "normal" body weight. Trade-offs. Life is full of those, with or without cancer.
Where are you on the alcohol consumption post cancer spectrum? To drink or not to drink? Whatever choice you make, I just say make it consciously and fully aware of the pros and cons. No judgment.