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.
A cancer survivor discusses the ongoing emotional roller coaster ride of cancer survivorship.
I dodged a bullet recently, a blood test result that led to a PET (positron emission tomography) scan. This was the same scan that found the metastatic breast cancer that killed my mom two years ago. I was worried, and kind of freaked out. However, my PET scan did not show cancer —this time.
As an almost ten-year cancer survivor, I know it will not be the last bullet that comes in my direction and that one day, one of those "bullets" may take my life if something else doesn't.
The fears and worries about cancer recurrence, a new cancer or side effects from past treatment are legitimate and ongoing for a cancer survivor. To manage, I have a follow-up plan that includes trying to do the following:
Schedule annual medical exams and screening tests.
I put notes on my computer and phone calendar to make the calls to schedule all the appointments. It takes some of the stress out of my brain when I can simply tell my brain that "it is on the calendar." I don't have to worry about forgetting and it gives me permission to not be hyper-vigilant about having regular medical appointments.
Call the doctor's office.
I promptly call or come in when a medical concern pops up to minimize the time spent worrying. If I find a lump, see a suspicious mole, or have another concerning symptom, I try not to wait and worry. I can shorten the wait and reduce the worry by getting an appointment on the calendar.
Use coping tools.
While waiting, I try to pray and breathe, practice mindfulness meditation, and use distraction. Effective distraction looks different for each of us. For me, it can be a good book, shopping, or even television. Having a belief system helps me, especially in times of extreme stress.
Spending time focusing on breathing helps me too. Trying different mindfulness meditations to find the ones that clicked for me was worth the effort. Regular body movement and exercise helps manage my stress and is a healthy habit too, that was worth the effort.
Journaling when I need to get the worrisome thoughts out of my head and down on paper or computer is great. Practicing gratitude when stressed out, and when not stressed out, refocuses my thoughts in happier directions.
Do not punish yourself with "should's" or "need-to's." Do recognize that there will be ups and downs and know that you can cope your way through each of them. All any of us can do is the best we can at any given moment. Sometimes you may eat healthily and get your exercise, journaling, and gratitude accomplished for the day, and other days, it may not work out.
No self-beating. Getting time between your initial diagnosis and the rest of your life will help you recognize that time is better measured in months and years, unfortunately, rather than days or weeks.
Seize the moment and enjoy your day. You deserve it!