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.
This breast cancer survivor believes each of us is precious and unique, and that is helpful to stop comparing ourselves to each other.
What kind of cancer survivor does a cancer survivor want to hear about? It really is very specific. We want to hear a success story about someone with exactly the same cancer diagnosis we have, or slightly worse, who is alive and doing well as a survivor for many more years than we currently have under our own belts. Did you know that? Be careful when you share with cancer survivors. Do not add to a cancer patient's fear. In fact, we all just need to stop comparing.
Support groups, both online and in person, can be difficult with this tendency to compare. I know this personally. You see, I have been looking at a lot of boobs online lately as I approach my own prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction. These boobs, in the snarky mastectomy world I am now entering, are sometimes called “foobs,” as in fake boobs. Some of the online pictures I have seen are fantastic and amazing. Some, well, are honestly quite scary.
Some of these foobs are on 30-somethings or younger. Well, sure they look good! Some are before or after other cancer treatments. Of course, that would make a difference, too. Some are from large metro area reconstruction plastic surgeons and some are not. On top of that, there are a huge variety of body types, medical circumstances and different surgical techniques out there. Of course they are all different! Stop comparing, Barb.
When we compare at cancer support groups, the conclusions we make could be equally inaccurate and even frightening. Do not look around the room and presume you know everything medical about the people sitting there with you. No one is a statistic. We are beautiful, wonderfully made, unique individuals. Trust that you are truly precious. Know that your diagnosis, treatment, and outcome will be unique to you, and do not sit in a group worrying or obsessing. Be gentle with yourself.
The uniqueness of each of us becomes even clearer as we continue to learn about genetics and do more and more genetic testing. My "garden variety" breast cancer became rare when it turns out I have a rare genetic mutation called PALB2. I went from feeling OK with a lumpectomy to deciding a prophylactic double mastectomy would be a better choice for me.
We as cancer survivors and as human beings can share, learn, bounce ideas off of each other and send positive energy, cyber or real hugs, or prayers or caring thoughts to support each other, but it is not helpful to compare ourselves to each other. Stop comparing other cancer survivors to yourself.
We live in a society that likes to compare. I say wait, hold on, and take a breath when it comes to comparing, especially health-related comparisons like cancer outcomes and foobs. All we can each do is make the best treatment choices we can for ourselves at our particular moment and circumstances in time and support fellow cancer survivors in their choices whether we agree with them or not. We can be gentle to ourselves and to those around us and remember that each of us is precious and unique.