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.
Gratitude is my ultimate coping tool for managing my cancer survivorship.
I am scared but hopeful. My sleep psychiatrist who I saw for fatigue just ran a blood test called Gamma GT (GGT). My elevated result could mean anything from secondary breast cancer in my liver (metastatic breast cancer), some other medical possibilities, or that I simply need to drink less alcohol. Is this a warning call or last call?
I wait for and manage my uncertainty. The sleep specialty psychiatrist who ordered the blood test told me to reduce alcohol consumption and that we would rerun the test in a few weeks. Being a concerned breast cancer survivor, I put in a call to my oncologist, and I am waiting to hear her thoughts. Meanwhile, I try to take a breath and practice my coping tools — especially gratitude.
After putting in a call to my oncologist, I prayed. The next thing I did was let my spouse know. Who else did I tell? It could be nothing. It could be everything. I told an adult child who happened to call me in the middle of this. I told a very dear friend who has stuck with me and supported me through my cancers and cancer fears for many years. Do I widen the circle? It is a personal choice. At that point, I just hoped to hear back from the oncologist for the next steps, if any.
My oncologist decided to order a PET scan — the same scan that caught my mom's metastatic breast cancer which killed her a couple of months later. My mom's breast cancer had spread to become a tumor in her brain. It is my liver that they are concerned about but the liver is also one of the locations that breast cancer tends to go. Honestly, it was getting a lot harder to be brave and calm. I remembered taking my mom for her scan — the whole thing takes a couple of hours. Scanxiety can be managed, and it helped me to write too. I also told a few more close friends and prayed more.
The PET scan was completed along with a blood draw to run a liver "panel" and the GGT again. This was awaiting and praying time for me. I kept thinking about what a long-term pancreatic cancer survivor said at a cancer survivor support group I spoke at last week, "Aggressive cancer calls for aggressive gratitude." She was exactly right. That night I definitely learned more than I taught. Practicing gratitude was more helpful and hopeful than practicing fear.
Waiting for the results was the hard part. I recently learned of one patient who had to wait two months for internal surgical scarring to fad before being able to re-test to determine whether what the doctors saw was scar tissue or cancer. That taught me that I am just a "baby" waiter. I cannot imagine living with that kind of heightened uncertainty for months, but clearly it is a reality for some survivors. It also means I could make the effort to shore myself up and wait for a few days when needed.
The PET scan results finally arrived: No evidence of cancer. Phew! Another shot across the bow has been avoided - this time. I pray prayers of gratitude and enjoy the feeling of relief — this time. Either way, it is truly important and helpful for me to practice gratitude. The elevated GGT may improve with reduced alcohol consumption and/or weaning off an anxiety medication that I have taken for a long time. Regardless, I am reminded that life tastes way sweeter than that second glass of wine, and I hope practicing gratitude is also helpful for you in difficult times of waiting.