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 two-time, nine-year cancer survivor is grateful for her therapist.
I was lucky. Lucky to get breast cancer and melanoma? No. I was lucky to find a talk therapist who specialized in helping cancer patients.
To be honest, full disclosure and all, I struggled with anxiety even before my first cancer diagnosis. During active cancer treatment, I saw my talk therapist weekly. Now, at nine years out, I see her once every month or two, to help me help myself stay on track. Who wants sadness, fear, anger, or stress coming out sideways at his or her loved ones?
If more people were willing to get the objective, competent advice of a trained and licensed talk therapist, I think we, as humans, would treat each other better overall. Family will love you. Friends will support you. A talk therapist will tell you what you need to hear instead of what you think you want to hear. That is an important distinction.
It is not shameful to see a therapist when life gets tough. It is a healthful, wise choice. When managing a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing fear of recurrence, it can be an essential choice. Do not try to tackle cancer alone. It is too big and life changing to go it alone. Just don't.
Most people who have not had cancer just do not understand. If you make it through active cancer treatment, they assume you have "beaten it." As we cancer survivors know, that may or may not be the case. We are left to recover and to try to appear normal just as soon as hair starts to grow back and we begin to look normal.
What can an oncology talk therapist offer? A knowledgeable perspective, a safe place to cry loudly when you need it, a good listen, and techniques to cope with the anger, ongoing fear, and worry that come with stupid cancer. A good talk therapist is supportive but still objective. Do you feel like you are the only one who cried that hard or got that angry or felt that hopeless? Your talk therapist can let you know where you fall on any of those continuums and help you manage your very understandable upset feelings and worried thoughts.
I would like to share the benefits of a good talk therapist with you. But first, I would like to emphasize the importance of finding a talk therapist that is a good fit for you. Over the years, with my anxiety and other life struggles, I have worked with several different talk therapists. They each have had their strengths and weaknesses, and you owe it to yourself to find one that you "click" with. Like finding the right anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication, this can sometimes take time, but in the end, it is very worth it. You owe this to yourself and to your loved ones. Seriously.
There are many benefits to a talk therapist. A talk therapist will accompany you through your cancer treatment and beyond. A talk therapist will listen and offer concrete suggestions and tools to help your emotional wellbeing. Having trouble sleeping? Feeling down? Consumed sometimes by worry or fear? Struggling with anxiety? A talk therapist can offer specific techniques to help you with those issues. I have said it before and I will say it again: It helps to understand that you are having very normal reactions to a very abnormal situation, in this case, a cancer diagnosis. Chemotherapy can also contribute to having whacked out emotions too. It can mess with your hormones and emotions in ways it can be difficult to anticipate.
A therapist can help you with perspective, offer reading suggestions, and provide you with coping tools. My therapist helped me curb my self-blame and worry brain. My therapist also helped me reframe my thoughts and tweak some of the nasty things I was telling myself. I learned how to focus on my external senses to get out of my worry brain. I learned visualization and breathing techniques.
My therapist taught me ways to comfort myself through cancer and beyond, and I believe a therapist could help you improve your life too!