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.
Breast cancer survivor speculates about achieving health and wonders what "healthy" even means. Is the game rigged?
After two cancers and now a recently discovered breast cancer genetic mutation that may have been the cause of at least some of my trouble, I have trouble trusting my body. Still, I want to give it the respect it deserves and I want to get along with it. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt like I had stepped in a "pile" that others around me had managed to neatly avoid. I wondered what I had done wrong. Was it something I ate? Something in the air I happened to breathe? What had I done? How can I be "healthy" now, and what does being "healthy" even mean?
I had breast cancer and then a melanoma. Of course, I am worried cancer could happen to me again. Quite a few cancer survivors seem like they have had to cope with two cancers or more. Now we are learning that some cancers involve genetic abnormalities. I have the PALB2 breast cancer mutation.
I work on healthier eating and exercise. I am a work in progress in those areas. Eating healthfully and moving joyfully, regardless of age, makes sense. I know that research says that just because someone has a genetic abnormality, that does not mean they will definitely get cancer. Some people with these genetic abnormalities do not get cancer, and yet, I have discovered I have stepped into the wrong part of the gene pool now, too.
I have learned that fear is only a short-term motivator. As I got more and more years in between my breast cancer diagnosis and I, poorer eating habits and less exercise have crept back into my life. I am not happy about it, and it is my current reality. I can and will do better — for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.
I want to feel better and last longer in the best shape I can achieve. Those two points are my motivations for keeping better life habits. Does this make sense? I suspect cancer is caused by many health factors, including genetics. And yet, it seems like the dice roll may be rigged, at least in part, by genetic makeup. So, I am not going to be extreme. I want to enjoy normal things, including the occasional dessert, fried food or alcohol. I won't let a cancer diagnosis or a faulty cancer repair gene change my life any more than, than, than...? Well, what? Well, some days I just want to stick my head back into the sand. I am probably not the only survivor who feels this way.
Many days it seems like we are all working on the cancer health puzzle, and we don't have all the pieces yet. Some days we just get to work with what we have. I turn to nature and to faith and to the recognition that I am a very tiny being on this single planet in the universe for a very brief window of time. Strangely, this perspective helps me.
I will try to make healthy choices. I won't beat myself up when I don't. And, life will go on. We will each make our best choices. The past is past, and the present, as a survivor, is a gift I am grateful to have. Some things in life are worse than death. I will try to get to the finish line in the best shape that I can and let the rest go.