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.
Recognize birthdays, but most importantly, keep hope, says a breast cancer and melanoma survivor.
I am happy and grateful to be here to celebrate my 55th birthday this month. This will be my second birthday without my Mom; she passed away less than a week before my birthday last year from metastatic breast cancer. As a breast cancer survivor myself, and as her daughter, I will miss her for the rest of my life. I am getting through it one day at a time, and apparently birthday candle by birthday candle. It is OK to cry while celebrating, or maybe it is to celebrate while crying?
What do I want for my birthday? It is nothing that anyone can buy for me. I just want Mom back. That would be the magic wish. I would also love less discomfort and pain since my prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction this spring. I will be grateful for time with the family that is here with me. I would like better health, and I recognize this is an ongoing wish that I need to address myself. None of those wishes fit in a tidy little birthday package.
Did I mention I would like time, too? Cancer survivors are acutely aware of time passing. We know on a gut level on a daily basis that our days are numbered, and it makes each and every moment of every day more precious.
Oh, and I would love less cancer fatigue and chemo brain. Both are real, and both take their toll on cancer survivors. I am trying on an ongoing basis to make my peace with these daily realities. The ability to connect online and in person with fellow survivors is crucial for coping with these struggles.
I am old enough to know that life is a mixture of good moments and difficult ones. When I am in a sad place in my heart, I know I won't stay there. When I am in a happy place, I appreciate it all the more. Back in college, our concert band director prayed with us for peace before every concert. As an adult, I appreciate that prayer even more — peace in our hearts and in the world at large. My worried brain craves peace! With each birthday, I have a greater appreciation for peace.
Peace in my heart means that I work every day to keep hope. A dear friend told me in my twenties that the most important things in life are not "things" - they are our connections with each other. Material stuff is just stuff. While I hope for more birthdays (time) with my family and my friends, I consciously work every day to point my thoughts toward hope. I look forward, not back, to keep hope. Keep hope alive in your heart. Move your thoughts daily toward optimism.
My birthday wish is simple — no more cancer.
While I wait, I hope for improved cancer treatment follow-up plans (for more information on survivorship care, I like these articles on CURE). We all hope for improved survivor care plans to cope better with cancer's many physical, mental, and emotional long-term side effects.
I don't want to become a chronically sad, regretful, or sullen person. No one does. At some point, life deals everyone lemons of one variety or another. There will always be losses, sadness and disappointment at times in life. Instead of becoming mired down, I will try to look forward and keep hope, and I know you can too.