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.
One breast cancer and melanoma survivor thinks about the long-term impacts of her cancer diagnosis and the silver linings.
Last year I "finished" the procedures related to my prophylactic double mastectomy. I say "finished" because there is ongoing maintenance plus cancer worry even with these new "breasts." I also think some of the people around me wondered what the heck I was doing by putting myself through a cancer-treatment-like process yet again.
The people in my life who dealt with cancer themselves understood me. The alternative was monitoring for the breast cancer to come back by alternating mammograms with MRIs every six months—I did not want to wait around for cancer's return. I just discovered I have the PALB2 genetic mutation and yet, even after last year's procedures, I still found myself waiting.
I monitor my "breasts." I recently found a lump that was checked out, and the doctors are continuing to monitor my pancreas, which was scanned because of my genetic mutation. When will all this waiting and watching go away? The answer for me and for many of us is never. Double ugh.
I am sick and tired of my cancers— including their ongoing impact on me and on my loved ones. There is ongoing "wait and see," ongoing stress, ongoing consequences from treatments. Ongoing, ongoing, ongoing. Fellow cancer survivors understand this. I will never be grateful I got cancer. I will never look at cancer as a "gift," yet still, there are silver linings. Maybe some of these apply to you too?
I am grateful to be here. I got my first cancer over nine years ago, and I am still here. I am still here to worry, and I am still here to live. Good things, as well as bad, have happened in the past nine years. I would never wish my life away or wish my life to go faster.
I am grateful for awesome loved ones, friends and doctors in my life. My oncologist, who urged me to redo my genetic testing because so many more genes are looked at now, probably extended my life. How do you thank someone for that? If my genetic testing had not been done again, I could have been more likely to get more breast cancer, or the IPMNs in my pancreas might not have been discovered until it was too late.
I am grateful that my cancer problems continue to help me grow as a person and work on becoming a better human being than I think I would have been otherwise. Life problems create growth. We know this as humans. Seriously. I read the bible more. I pray more - for others as well as for myself. I work daily to be kinder. Honestly, I think and hope that I am a little less self-focused and selfish since my cancers, genetic mutation, prophylactic surgeries, and ongoing monitoring.
But finally, I am grateful that cancer makes me a more proactive person. I do not take people for granted. I do not take time for granted. I try to focus more on my loved ones. I try to work on my bucket list items sooner rather than later. Cancer survivors know that later may never come.
Cancer takes its pound(s) of flesh. Cancer starts the clock on a lifetime of worry for many of us. Cancer reminds us that we are not as in charge of our lives as we like to think we are, and maybe it is good to have some practice at worrying less about things outside of our control.
Yet thanks to the passage of time, I do not think of cancer every moment of every day, and I understand that I can use my cancer experiences as a tool for good in my life. So, as a fellow survivor, I believe that you can get find your silver linings too.