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.
It is tough to cope with a cancer diagnosis, and I want to give a sincere, but belated, thank you to my oncologists and oncology nurses.
"Me, me, me and by the way, me." That was this newly diagnosed cancer patient almost eight years ago. I acted like I was the special snowflake and, of course, I wasn't. Tears, fears, anxiety and sadness are normal reactions to the abnormal circumstances of cancer. Who would want to be an oncology doctor or nurse to deal with that? Why would someone willingly want to be the bearer of so much bad news and to be the skilled listener and problem-solver for unhappy cancer treatments and side effects? Maybe it is time or past time to say thank you to our oncologists?
My oncologist told me she simply became an oncologist, "to cure Mama." Her mom was dealing with breast cancer while my oncologist was in high school. Over the course of time and visiting with oncology staff, I learned that many oncology doctors and nurses have family connections and experiences with cancer. These professionals made a career choice for a very personal reason. Curing cancer was personal for them.
In the 1980s my oncologist switched from research to treating patients to have time to raise her family. Her first boss told her two things: 1. She would get depressed. 2. She would get bored. There was lots of talk of oncologist "burnout" in the 80s. From that time to now, my oncologist has good rapport and relationships with her patients. She discovered she truly enjoyed the patient interaction piece and that the field of oncology dramatically changed. The scientific understanding of cancer cells has come so far. Newer drugs significantly improved treatment options for oncologists and extended the lifespans of their patients. Both of those factors helped my oncologist. Plus, she understands patients because she is a breast cancer survivor herself.
In the 1990s, my oncologist met someone she would never forget. A Minneapolis police officer, who eventually died from his cancer, walked into her office and said, "I appreciate and understand what you are going through." What? What? As a homicide detective, this officer had lots of experience delivering bad news to unsuspecting families, and he expressed his gratitude to his oncologist the first time he met her because he understood that. Our oncologist was deeply moved by his kindness and never forgot that moment.
I remember my oncologist's patience and empathy with me. One day I was in her office in tears about something I thought might be a cancer recurrence. I apologized for my crying outburst and her immediate response was, "Of course you are crying. You are afraid." I will never forget her instant compassion that moment.
Now, in my 50s, she has helped me again as I faced my prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction. Again, Doctor, I thank you for telling me it is perfectly fine for me to still care to want to look like and feel like a girl even after cancer and especially after this procedure! Thank you! To all the oncology professionals who helped me through treatment and beyond, I belatedly offer my most sincere gratitude. Thank you!