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 can switch you to a different track but does not necessarily derail you, says a two-time cancer survivor.
Two cancers and quite a few years later, I still work on regaining mobility from my broken foot from two years ago and recovering from this year's double mastectomy with reconstruction project. Is there hope? Is there more life out there waiting for me? The answer is "yes" for me and for you if are fortunate enough to be here reading this. Sometimes this second chance feels a bit like a secondhand second chance; my body and my mind are not what they were before cancer entered the scene. Still, this second chance most definitely counts.
Cancer is not the only experience that can derail us during our lives. Divorce and other relationship changes, job losses, the deaths of loved ones, and of course, other illnesses will do that too. As a nine-year cancer survivor, I prefer to think of cancer as changing tracks rather than being derailed, especially as I recover from my third encounter with the C. diff that I got from my cancer preventative oophorectomy almost nine years ago. C. diff is miserable but I am grateful to be here to experience those moments of misery because there also have been some totally breathtaking moments to have experienced too. I am even grateful that my ovaries and uterus are gone, especially since learning about my PALB2 genetic cancer mutation a year ago. I believe that each of our quirky unique lives, bodies, and medical conditions will resolve the way they are meant to resolve.
Take a breath. Unclench those fists and unwrinkle that forehead. We are not as in charge of our lives as we like to think. I prefer to take that as calming rather than upsetting. Sometimes we are going to switch train tracks, and eventually we will all be derailed. That is how life works.
"Lighten up"? If someone had told me to lighten up during active cancer treatment, my mouth would have fallen open and I might even have gotten angry. Still, it is not bad advice for cancer survivors, according to this fellow survivor.
I do not mean to sound harsh. I am trying to help. As I look back over the past nine years, I realize that none of my post-traumatic stress disorder, fear, anxiety, sleepless nights, or ongoing worry has added a day to my life, but those emotions have definitely impacted the quality of it. I want better for you. Seriously. I let my cancers take away opportunities for laughter and love. Do better than me. I believe in you.
It is good to be cautious with our health moving forward. Be quick to get those worries fully checked out (and boy, after cancer, there will be worries), and then do not dwell on them! Get back to taking your second or third or fourth chance, and run with it! Your time, with or without cancer, will continue to speed by. You have switched tracks and your body and mind have paid the toll, and you continue to move forward.
There are more and more coping tools for cancer survivors every day, including my own book Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools. Please make the choice to sort through those tools, figure out what works best for you, and then use them. Life will be different and more difficult after a cancer diagnosis and it will be doable. You can do this!