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.
Cancer survivor shares how cancer survivorship impacts her life choices as she moves forward.
The message: Live deliberately. This is a balance for me—planning and preparing for the last third of life and living in the moment and sorting out what is important. We bought our cabin two years ago, and now the cabin feels more like home than the downsized home we have been in for five months. A lot has happened in a short period of time. It is going to take time to belatedly process it. Again, I am grateful for my faith, understanding husband, friends and talk therapist. I am fortunate these people are in my life.
Ultimately, I know the important things in life are not things at all—they are people. Two cancers (mine and my mother’s) drove that point home like nothing else could. I also know I sometimes spin around too much in my own head and I need to redirect my mind outward to the people in my life and toward nature and this marvelous world.
Lately, sadly, selfishly, I miss my mobility with a recently broken foot, and I still miss my previous home with its views of water and nature from every window. I get tangled in the stuff of life too, even as a clutter-clearing speaker-author and a cancer survivor. I associate memories with the boxes of things from my parents’ home when I know the simple and healthier answer is to journal about the memories, and then pass the stuff on to my daughters, sell some of it and donate the rest. The remainder of life is better spent with people than with stuff.
More painfully, I miss my parents—especially since the death of my mom this summer from metastatic breast cancer. As an only-child adult, I fantasize about a sibling or about going back in time and miraculously doing things differently. I worry about forgetting family memories and details now that there is no one to ask. I worry about my adult children, regret my own parenting mistakes and contemplate what would have happened if I parented better. I could write about my parents’ lives to preserve their memories and I could talk to my children about our collective family skeletons and/or remember that the past is in the past or write them a letter. There are ways to move forward.
It isn’t healthy to live in the past, and yet I don’t want to forget the past, either. I want to honor my parents’ memories, support my adult children’s lives and make wise decisions about my future. I feel out of balance right now and I try to use my coping tools — the tools that I had a chance to work on as a cancer survivor – to sort through all of this in a gentle way.
Life has not been unfair to me. Everything that has happened to me has happened to other people. It has been a lot in a short period of time (death, move, illnesses), but even that timing is not unique. Sometimes bad life events just happen to clump together. Other difficult things even happen to people during cancer treatment as if that is not enough by itself. I am reminded repeatedly that I am not in charge. I am a very small person in a very large universe. Are you recently diagnosed? In active treatment? Or trying to figure out “new normal” after active treatment? Life does not stay the same from one moment to the next and neither do our feelings. Believe that life will calm down and get better. I do.