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.
Two-time cancer survivor struggles with a different loss than cancer this holiday season.
There is no way around it. I miss my mom and dad. Dad died several years ago with dementia. Mom died from a tumor in her brain from advanced metastatic breast cancer a few months ago. Mom’s birthday is a week before Christmas. Cancer survivors use lots of coping strategies to get through their cancer, but I do not feel prepared for this. The loss of a parent is a common “normal” experience that most of us go through. I know that and it hurts. I think it will always hurt. I hope with time it will become more bittersweet. This year, well, this year, I am just sad.
My pastor once said that you could learn a lot about someone if you were looking through his or her checkbook. Yesterday I finally went through Mom’s small zippered bag that had functioned as her wallet. In addition to her identification card that designated her as a donor, and her health insurance cards, I found her YMCA card, hospital auxiliary membership and her National Geographic and Audubon memberships. I also found my business card and a ticket stub from an afternoon paddleboat cruise that I had taken with her. Mom doesn’t need these things and I can’t throw them out. Oh Mom, I miss you!
Mom was smart, thoughtful and kind. When she was diagnosed, I promised her I would miss her every day of my life for the rest of my life and I would be OK. I am having trouble fulfilling the second part of that promise. I remember that we hugged as I cried that day when we left the surgeon’s office and we went for ice cream. Mom, ice cream just won’t fix this.
Mom is gone. I have sadness and guilt. I know it isn’t healthy to second guess myself and play the “should have” game. It isn’t productive. It doesn’t help me heal. I know I need to remember all the good times further back than the last few days of her life. I believe I will get there, but right now it just hurts. I would give anything for one more hug with her.
When we struggle to cope with a cancer diagnosis and cancer survivorship, we think a lot about our cancer. We didn’t choose it and we get to work through it. We also don’t choose the loss of a parent and so many other losses that happen in life. Our job is to work through the losses, honestly. I am trying. Some days I try better than other days. We are allowed that.
As the holiday magician of our household, it has always been my responsibility (self-imposed) to make sure everyone in my family enjoys their holidays. I worried too much about the gift giving and baking, and it really isn’t about the gifts or treats at all. My children are now grown. Mom is gone. It may be time to let go of some of that responsibility. It is time for new traditions and new ways of doing things. My heart is broken and I will move forward. Moving forward through loss is the only sane approach. Some days I am not very sane.
There is a mantra that my friend JB shared with me, “Always pull yourself forward.” I will. I will not let go of the rope and it is hard. Cancer survivors deal with many kinds of loss—loss of health, loss of normalcy, loss of confidence in life. Every day we get up, put one foot ahead of the other, hang onto the rope with every ounce of courage that we have, and we pull ourselves forward. Together we can do this.