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.
Is it too much to want to feel like myself again after cancer?
Is it too much to ask to want to feel like myself again after cancer?
I had breast cancer eight years ago. I had it all — lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, oophorectomy, hormone therapy…Well, not quite all. When I recently redid my genetic testing, I learned, with new advances in genetic research, that I have the PALB2 genetic abnormality. Back to the drawing board, or rather, back in for a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction. What a process. I mean, seriously? Now, after all this, I don't feel normal. Is it too much to just ask for normal?
All I am hoping for is pain-free, normal energy and an appearance, that, when wearing clothing or a swimsuit, looks "normal" to those around me. I will get there. I will literally create my "new normal." I still hate that expression, but I am willing to fight for it so that I can blend back in with the pack.
My friends, who know what I have recently been through, take a quick furtive glance at my chest and tell me I look great. Yikes. I haven't even had my exchange surgery yet (swapping out tissue expanders for more permanent implants). To those around me, it already looks like I should be "back to normal." I do not like the word "should" either by the way. And, hello, I still can't sleep on either side or my tummy because of the "lovely" stiff uncomfortable expanders.
Don't get me wrong. It is encouraging that the people around me want to be happy for me. They truly mean well, and I know it. Usually, I just smile politely and thank them. You know the drill, right? Still, just between us, it can be a little frustrating sometimes. Right?
This is where curetoday.com and Facebook support groups come in for me. It is helpful for me to interact, vent and find understanding in articles and live correspondence with fellow cancer survivors. Fellow mastectomy and mastectomy-with-reconstruction patients understand what I am saying and feeling. We don't have to go through this feeling alone while surrounded by friends and family. Fellow cancer survivors understand that the external does not always match the internal.
So, it is my job to let family and friends know when I need to talk to them and share what I am experiencing. The people around us are not mind readers. If I have a need to say something, it is my responsibility to bring it up.
What about strangers? Sometimes I am a little twisted about this. Do I spring it on the cashier at the grocery store checkout that I need help with bagging and carrying groceries to my car because I just had a double mastectomy? Or, do I take the high road and just let them know I need some help?
How do you answer, "How are you?" You know casual acquaintances or strangers don't want the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "Fine." I suppress the urge to horrify them with what is really happening - most of the time. I know, I have a bit of a mean blunt streak sometimes too. I am a work in progress in so many ways. I guess we all are.
Ultimately, cancer survivors just want to get back to their normally scheduled lives. We want to blend in with everyone else and move forward. Sometimes there is a lot more to that process than meets the eye, and we are fortunate to be able to connect with each other for support.