Choosing to Be Proactive, Not Reactive, After Cancer Wears You Down


Breast cancer and melanoma survivor reflects about being tired of her cancers and shares a way to respond to uncertainty.

People who have never had cancer do not always understand why someone would consider subjecting themselves to a double prophylactic mastectomy. People who have had cancer, especially those who have been through chemotherapy, get it. I don’t want to need to be monitored and checked for cancer every six months. I don’t want to live in fear. In other words, I do not want to wait around for something bad to happen if I can prevent it from happening by being proactive now. I am tired of my cancers and the trouble they have caused, not just for me but also for the people I love.

I totally understand I can get hit by a car or find a different serious health issue at any time, but if I can reduce a major worry that I have dealt with for seven and a half years, I am all in. I am tired of something that has frightened me, worn me down and taken its pound of flesh in so many ways.

How much should someone go hunting for cancer news? What research “should” I be reading? What tests “should” I be requesting? Should I have done the genetic testing that revealed I am positive for the PALB2 abnormality? I learned that instead of being at about a 15 percent possibility of breast cancer returning, it is more of a 30 to 60 percent possibility. What is rational versus too concerned? I don’t know. I suspect that answer is different for each of us. Is there something you can do to be proactive rather than reactive?

To be proactive is not a choice everyone will make. That is OK. Living with one or more cancer diagnoses is living a life painfully aware of life’s uncertainty, and it is ongoing. Fear of recurrence, whether someone is newly diagnosed or 20 years out, never goes away. Uncertainty wears a person down. Cancer survivors live with the uncertainty that cancer may or may not return for the rest of their lives.

Growth does come through problems—including relationship changes, job changes and health changes. Why do some of us use negatives to create positives? My cancers helped me grow my faith and deepen my relationships and focus better on priorities. Still, I would never call either of my cancers “gifts.” No. A disease is not a gift. A life of uncertainty isn’t a “special present.”

Maybe sometimes we just want a break. Maybe we merely get a momentary distraction. Hey, may I please just have a break from cancer care, cancer monitoring, cancer appointments, cancer thoughts, cancer worries and, of course, cancer itself? I will still be monitored because of my other cancer, melanoma. So, maybe this breast cancer survivor can make herself a bit of a breast cancer break?

We get to make our own breaks. That is what I think. Sometimes I give my worries to God. Sometimes I distract myself with what is around me. Sometimes I practice gratitude for things going right, and ironically, sometimes it helps to remind myself, that I am not in charge. After all, how much does it make sense to worry about things I can’t control?

What cancer survivor doesn’t crave a version of normal that they don’t have to call “new normal?” Even a prophylactic double mastectomy will be a “new normal” for me. I will do it because I get to be in charge this time, not my cancer. I will get to try to move my life forward in other directions. So, how can you make a break from your cancer and manage the uncertainty?

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