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.
There are methods to cope with ongoing cancer research and worry.
Front, back, side, front, back, side. The advice on how to put a newborn to bed has changed and changed and changed over the years as new research studies appear. So, what are the best near-term and longer-term treatments for cancer? It can feel like trying to hit a moving target, even after being treated for cancer.
As an eight-year breast cancer survivor and four-year melanoma survivor, I say do yourself a favor and make your peace with the ever-changing landscape of cancer treatment. This is easier said than done. It is a strange mix of gratitude and worry.
Reassure yourself that the best that could be done at the moment of treatment has been done. Be grateful that we know a lot more about cancer than we did even a decade or two ago (which isn't really that long a time window in human history). Oncology is a very rapidly changing area of medicine, especially when you throw genetic research into the mix. All this is ultimately good for you and for your hereditary family members! See? Worry really isn't all bad. And yet…
Gently give yourself permission to worry a little bit, too. Why worry? Worry can be a very healthy thing. It can motivate you to go in and get something checked out by a doctor. Make the call, get in to see the doctor, possibly have a test and then hopefully cross that niggling worry off the list — for now.
What else? This is where it can get tricky: do the occasional search on the internet to see what has changed in the diagnosis and treatment of your type of cancer to learn what might be relevant to your cancer surveillance and long-term treatment.
The definition of “occasionally” will vary from person to person. For me, this is often enough to sleep at night, but not so often as to drive myself more crazy. Here are three things that may help.
First, stick with major and reliable cancer research, and keep in mind that if something is true, it is often verified by more than just a single study. Second, if you do find something that may apply to your ongoing care, run it by your oncologist. Third, the area of genetics is probably the most rapidly changing area of cancer research, so check in regularly to see if it is time for an updated genetic test for yourself and your blood relatives. Johns Hopkins has a good genetics FAQs page on their website regarding breast and ovarian cancer genetic testing. The Mayo Clinic is another place to learn about genetic testing in general.
How much you worry and want to know may also help you decide how you approach genetic testing. If you are worried about blood relatives or offspring, you might be more motivated to do genetic testing. If you are worried and willing to take action for your own care based on updated genetic testing, you may be more motivated to pursue genetic testing.
Seven years after breast cancer treatment, I redid my own genetic testing and discovered I had one of the new genetic mutations, PALB2. This led me, my genetic counselor and my oncologists to decide a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction was today's prophylactic treatment for me. If someone does not have blood relatives to share results with and/or would not choose treatment if worrisome genetic results were found, the genetic testing decision might be a different story. It is a personal choice based on many factors. As a fellow cancer survivor, I am just suggesting that you really can choose to look at your cancer worries in a positive light and be proactive for yourself and your loved ones.