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.
A breast cancer survivor's thoughts on her eight-year cancerversary.
I can't believe I am eight years out from my breast cancer diagnosis - my first cancer diagnosis. I honestly never thought I would have the perspective of eight years to look back on that frightening day. Those of us who have made it several years out have the opportunity to help and support those who are more newly diagnosed.
Giving back during and after cancer is a win-win situation for the giver and for the recipient. Cancer survivors do this every time we help each other. Sometimes it is sharing knowledge and experience, sometimes it is sharing empirical information, and sometimes it is emotional support and understanding. Cancer takes more than a physical toll on each of us. I believe we are here to help each other.
There is a mental and emotional toll that goes along with a cancer diagnosis. Oncology doctors and nurses have the expertise to help us physically, and there are more and more resources now to help us cope emotionally. I think one of the most powerful ways to work through the fear and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis is to connect with fellow survivors.
When I was in the first weeks and months of my breast cancer diagnosis, I remember reading stories by survivors who were years out from their initial diagnosis. Those stories gave me hope - hope that I might survive and hope that the fears and anxieties would not rule my mind for the rest of my life. We can gift each other some perspective, positive energy, and connectedness.
Cancer can be depressing and anxiety-inducing for patients and caregivers. We can encourage each other to explore the resources that are available to make it through these difficult times. We can help each other ask the best medical questions. We can share coping strategies and cyber hugs. My time-tested resources include a variety of coping tools.
My emotional tool bag is much larger and more frequently used since my first cancer diagnosis. Yes, I said first because I also developed an unrelated melanoma several years later and I was fortunate to survive that as well.
Many of us get to expand our emotional tool bag after a cancer diagnosis or a cancer loss in the family. The tools we each develop will vary because we are each unique individuals. The tools I use include: living in the moment, distraction to escape my "worry brain," mindfulness meditations, ongoing connections with supportive friends and fellow survivors, growing my belief system, connecting with nature, and taking melatonin to help me sleep at night. I would like my list to include more regular exercise and maybe eventually yoga, but as I mentioned, each of us gets to work on our own individual tool bags.
The important thing is to keep hope and to work to get through your experience. This includes working to expand your emotional tool bag. You have this. You can do this! You are not alone. Check out the support groups in your area as well as Facebook support groups specific to your particular cancer, along with CURE Magazine on Facebook. You may be surprised at how quickly you can give and receive support!