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Happy Fourth of July: Cancer Doesn't Take a Break


Breast cancer survivor Barbara Tako recalls a Fourth of July holiday during her chemotherapy treatments.

A holiday weekend may provide a welcome distraction for some. My truth is that cancer doesn’t take a break for a holiday weekend. In fact, I remember my hair falling out even as I was watching amazing fireworks a few years ago. I had to pack my wig just in case and I was glad I did. I had to clean up the globs of wet hair from the floor of the shower every morning during that long weekend.

Before we left, I remember running into a department store to purchase a bag large enough to hold all the cancer supplies — the medications, the wig, the lengthy instructions, sun screen and a few plastic barf bags. A normal purse just wouldn’t work for that weekend. Ironically, for me, I received numerous compliments for that bag I needed to carry around.

We had to take several breaks during the long drive to “walk Barb” per the doctor’s instructions. No one wants to court blood clots, of course. Those necessary stops created an element of fear and worry that shouldn’t have been part of a holiday weekend. Cancer doesn’t take a break for holidays.

I remember wondering how much of my hair was blowing away in the brisk wind that was at our destination. It was a beautiful area and it was joyous and calming. I wondered how my poor hair looked in the outdoor photos that were taken. The wind and sun on the water were amazing and fearful. Apparently, my cancer treatment made sun exposure a bad idea for my skin. I basked fearfully with sunscreen in the warm sun. Is it time to put on the wig yet? Cancer doesn’t take a break for holidays.

There were some amazing restaurants in the area. It was fun to enjoy the outdoor seating. Baseball caps became my friend that weekend. I tried to make careful food choices as I looked over those fun holiday menus. Alcohol would not be on my approved list. Being queasy or somehow hurting my cancer treatment would just not be fun, but I was happy my family could relax and enjoy.

One of my daughters won a music competition that weekend as we watched from our seats. I remember tears of utter joy and happiness running down my face when the announcement was made at the end of that Fourth of July orchestra concert. It was bittersweet. I wanted, and I still want, to be around to see where her music takes her. Cancer just doesn’t take a break for holidays.

Wherever you are on the long holiday weekend, please know that I am thinking of you as you experience your own bittersweet holiday. Know that I wish you some rest if you can squeeze some into your weekend. Know that I wish you as many moments of fun distraction as you can have. Know that I wish you as many moments of peace from your worry as the holiday can offer you. And above all, know that I am totally with you in the understanding and sad knowledge that cancer doesn’t take a break for holidays.

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