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.
There are productive ways for cancer survivors to live with the ongoing fear of recurrence.
Cancer survivors regularly face the thought: "I am afraid my cancer will return." It is our "new normal" truth, and yes, I still don't like that term. Still, it is helpful to honestly and openly face the fear, and every time I face it, a little bit of the fear converts from fear to wisdom. Fear of recurrence is a reminder of a couple of life's truths that most people do not want to regularly face:
1. We are mortal.
2. We are not as in charge of our lives as we like to pretend.
Humans do not like to live with uncertainty. We like routines and habits and plans and goals. Fear of recurrence consigns cancer survivors to a life of uncertainty. Facing this fear can help us to convert it to wisdom, regardless of our chronological age. Suddenly we are awake in a room full of sleepers. We can work with that.
Our blinders are off and we can change our lives accordingly. That is not a bad thing. Fear can give us an edge and a heightened appreciation in life. We don't need to get bogged down by the little things. We can focus on what really matters. We know the clock is ticking. We know postponement is not an ongoing option. We can be motivated to improve our relationships, our habits and our lives today. Don't let the fear eat away at you.
What are your priorities? What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to help others? Do you have bucket list items to complete? Do you have relationships that need attention? Goals to accomplish? A legacy to leave? We know our time is our life — literally. The time to begin is now.
Use the fear to sharpen your focus. Use the fear to create meaning in your life. Time will pass, regardless, and it is human nature to fear for our lives. We know these things. Learning to cope will grow our hearts, minds and spirits. I do not mean to sound like a little Ms. Sunshine here. Cancer still stinks and we can use it to create some good.
Be grateful. I was sitting in the doctor's waiting room for my pre-op (prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction) appointment feeling sorry for myself last week. I looked up and saw a man with no legs in a wheel chair coming to his doctor appointment. Seriously? Sorry for myself? Who am I to indulge in self-pity? Life happens to all of us.
Cancer shakes us to our core. Eight years ago, it shook me to my foundation. Since then, there have been many other ups and downs, most of them not related to my cancer diagnosis. I have said it before and I will say it again: Life is good, and I am afraid my cancer will come back. Use the fear of recurrence to practice gratitude and keep your perspective.
Keep your perspective by prioritizing and living in the moment. Be honest with yourself and the people around you. One way or another you will get through. No one gets out alive. Cancer survivors are just more aware of that truth. The only things we truly control are our own choices. How we will get through? What will that look like? You get to choose that, not your cancer.