Sometimes a Cancer Patient Becomes a Cancer Caregiver


When roles change over time, use your cancer super powers to help, says melanoma and breast cancer survivor Barbara Tako.

I had breast cancer when I was 46. My mom was first diagnosed a few years after me at age 80. Breast cancer is a common well-known cancer, but we each are unique in our age, our particular life stage when we get cancer and our type of cancer. I literally had to keep reminding myself that it was OK and correct for her when her treatment choices and needs were different from mine.

Mom's cancer returned three years later but had not spread, based on her scan results. She chose to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction in her 80s. She was not a candidate for chemotherapy and she chose not to have radiation. My job, though I did not necessarily agree with her choices, was to support her choices. That was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

Cancer survivors know that there are many variables that come into play with a cancer diagnosis — type of cancer, stage, grade, other health issues, age at diagnosis and genetics, to name a few. One of our cancer superpowers is that we understand there are many variables and are therefore equipped to help each other.

As the adult only child, it was my job to connect her with her team of oncologists. It was also my job to learn when to keep my mouth shut when Mom's choices were less aggressive than mine. They were her choices to make.

My goals, I think, were different from Mom's goals. I wanted to stick around to travel and to experience more life and to possibly see grandchildren someday. Mom's grandchildren were already young adults. Mom's treatment options and choices were less aggressive than mine. Mom already had other health issues weighing her down. It was difficult for me to support and honor her choices, but it was important.

When her cancer returned a third time a year later, it was metastatic and it included a tumor in her brain. My heart broke, and my job was to work with hospice to keep her as comfortable and as pain-free as possible. Having the tables turned from patient to care giver was insightful.

I truly respect and am grateful for caregivers. Cancer survivor caregivers can bring some powerful skills to the caregiver table. We understand the uniqueness of each cancer survivor. We understand cancer treatment and after active treatment is a long process. Cancer survivor caregivers are in it for the long haul — cancer survivors know how treatment can be a long and even recurring process. Cancer survivor caregivers work hard to support the wishes of the patient just as they have wanted their own wishes respected and supported. Caregiving for cancer patients and survivors is truly a difficult job. If the tables turn and you become the cancer caregiver, trust your cancer super powers to help you in this role.

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