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.
Breast cancer survivor decides the "right" thing now, due to genetic testing results and family history, is a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstructions
I remember dealing with cancer and a difficult family situation when a very dear friend gently reminded me, "Barb, sometimes doing the right thing does not feel good." I needed that reminder then and while I wait for my prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction, I feel like I need that reminder again. What is right "right" implies a correctness or moral choice.
Every day, cancer survivors make the best decisions they can with their treatments and their lives. The outcomes of those choices are not always "happy." Sometimes I think our society seeks "happy" too often and too much. What about self-control and responsibilities? We are adults, after all.
The pursuit of happy does not always or immediately take us in the direction of happy. In addition, the choice for instant gratification does not always really make someone happy. I know my reconstruction will not be instant. It will be a process. There will be times for healing. There may be pitfalls or setbacks. There may be multiple surgeries and what we politely call "procedures." What a word. By all means, proceed. Yikes. And, yes, I am putting my family through "this" again. Again? No, this is not cancer, not this time. This is my personal choice. This is what I think is "right" for me at this moment in time with the limited knowledge available.
All any cancer survivor can do is make the best choice for themselves at that moment in time and then proceed. Life, especially life as a cancer survivor, does not offer guarantees. A guarantee would be a happy promise, but a promise that might not be kept. The life of a cancer survivor includes the thrum of lingering worry and fear in the background, a lump in the middle of the chest that never quite goes away since the day it was heard that "you have cancer."
Will I be happy when the breast removal surgery and reconstruction are all done? Now, happy is relative. The better question might be, “Will I be happier when the reconstruction is all done?” What if I did not choose a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction because of my breast cancer personal history, family history and PALB2 genetic mutation? That question is unanswerable because no one knows the future, especially if one tries to see into the future down two different timelines.
So, what makes someone happy? Is it instant gratification or pursuit of farther goals? Is it self-rewarding behaviors or helping others? Is it being proactive to prevent a disease or staying busy getting on with life? It’s probably a little bit of each of these things at different moments in time gets someone to happy. Getting to happy can look different to each of us.
Forget "happy." Right now, as a cancer survivor, I am simply hoping doing what seems "right" for me will help me to find a little bit more peace — a smaller lump in my chest, if you will, no pun intended.