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 two-time cancer survivor finds cancer worries a little easier to face with time and experience.
I freaked out for days, weeks, and even months when I first received my diagnosis in 2010. I was in my mid-forties. Now I am in my mid-fifties looking back from my first diagnosis almost nine years ago. I am not proud of my words and actions. I was only one small fish in the cancer pond. I was buffed about by my own strong emotions, and I was driven by messed up hormones from chemotherapy. However, in the language of my children: I was not, and I am not the special snowflake.
Cancer is a little like having a knife stabbed into the middle of your chest, and nothing will ever quite pull it out all the way again. Even years of NED do not provide a guarantee of being "cured." Some days a person can get used to the knife. Some days the knife doesn't hurt as much. As time goes on, the knife does not hurt nearly as badly as the day it poked into a person, and yet, it is still there. On days leading up to medical tests or doctor appointments or "procedures," it is definitely there — sticking out of the middle of my chest. The thing is, no else sees or feels my knife but me.
When I lie on the couch, I pull my soft warm dog gently against the middle of my chest and smell her sweet fur. That helps. I try to take a breath. What has me stirred up? An upcoming minor positive procedure designed to help improve normalcy in my life. Next week, my recently reconstructed breasts get their nipple tattoos (coloring). Because of a recently discovered genetic mutation, I have spent the past year undergoing a double mastectomy with reconstruction even though I am years out from my first cancer diagnosis — I have also had a melanoma.
I know now that I am allowed to worry and to hope as I face this close-to-last procedure of my long reconstruction process. I am a very small fish in the grand scheme of things, and I look forward to slipping out of the current cancer-reminder net created by the many reconstruction procedures. It is helpful to connect with others on Facebook who understand my specific breast cancer reconstruction experience, as well as other fellow cancer survivors.
My awesome plastic surgeon said the ultimate goal is for me to be able to look in the mirror each morning and not think about my breasts and breast cancer. That sounds good to me. I can slowly see myself getting there. It does not make fear of recurrence go away, but it most certainly helps with quality of life.
Cancer is a life changer, even when it isn't always the immediate death sentence that we all are designed to fear. But cancer is not the only life changer. Life is difficult. We all carry around scars, some old and some new wounds. Some scars are physical. Others are mental or emotional. None of us are truly alone, even when we feel like we are alone, and we are not even unique in the feelings that come with cancer or other life difficulties. I take comfort in that and I hope you do too. You are not alone.
When you can, move forward. Use your cancer as a wake-up call to live your best life. Keep your follow-up appointments. Go see medical professionals when questions or worries come up — and they will. And, and, and move forward by living your life to the fullest – experience, learn and help others when you can. We are all fish in the same pond.