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.
As a cancer survivor, please know you are not alone and for your own sake as well as theirs, reach out to fellow survivors.
If we never had to face death, life would no longer be precious. Every cancer survivor has his or her own unique story and circumstances, and still, when we work through cancer supportively together, we are not alone. We can be — and we often are – there for each other.
With the explosion of cancer genetic research, we are learning more and more that each cancer survivor can be quite unique. We all have different family histories, medical histories, treatment histories, and unique cancer type even within the same general cancer label like "breast cancer" which has many types. Even with our uniqueness, we do not need to be alone, even if we are in a rural area or there is no one near us with our specific cancer.
I, for one, am deeply grateful for the support groups that are available in my metropolitan area. I also appreciate my fellow survivors who are at websites, in Facebook support groups and at curetoday.com. We have the opportunity to feel supported and less alone, and to education ourselves based on the experiences and knowledge of fellow survivors. When I have questions, fellow survivors have opinions, experience and suggestions. Thank you so much for that!
Fellow survivors "get it" without the need for lengthy detailed explanations. They get at a gut level what you are saying when you have chemo side effects, trouble sleeping, radiation burns, surgery recovery questions, fear, worry and isolation. Stupid cancer tries to take so much.
Fellow survivors help each other feel less isolated. Sometimes we just want a little commiseration and understanding and sometimes we are looking for some very specific answers. I have been fortunate to find both in local and internet support groups.
Most of the time these connections are very helpful. It is also important to be aware that a small percentage of the time, it can be hurtful or worrisome. Sometimes people only post when things are going badly, so it can appear there are more sad stories than happier ones. Sometimes there are misunderstandings. I suspect this is often caused by incomplete knowledge on both sides or factors unique to individual situations. Do connect and do be careful.
There is humor, sadness and joy to be found in learning from fellow survivors. I have been able to add options and broaden my perspective when making my own cancer care choices - thanks to fellow survivors. I have sometimes learned the questions to ask my medical team from my fellow survivors. I have learned I am not alone, even when I am feeling alone. We join in celebrating cancer anniversaries and NED (no evidence of disease) and we mourn those that cancer has taken from us. Together we can offer hope and sympathy, perspectives, cyber hugs and help.
If cancer makes us feel like we don't fit in with "normal" people, then connecting with fellow cancer survivors can be part of our "new normal." I still don't like that word but connecting this way is so supportive and so much better than feeling completely isolated. We can be and frequently are here for each other, and that is a truly amazing thing. Please do not overlook the importance of connecting with fellow survivors as your work through your own cancer survivorship.