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.
A two-time cancer survivor notes that although long-term cancer side effects can pile up, many are manageable.
Sometimes, cancer can feel like the "gift" that "just keeps on giving." As someone who manages the long-term "gifts" that come with breast cancer, I wanted to let you know that I'm in your corner cheering you on, and telling you that this is something you too will be able to manage and work through. After surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and long-term hormonal treatment, cancer did not magically go away for me.
Cancer left me with lymphedema, neuropathy, osteopenia, PTSD, anxiety, chemo brain and chronic fatigue. Years after my initial treatment, my oncologist and I decided to do another genetic test and we discovered that a double mastectomy and regular monitoring of my pancreas was needed. That may seem like a daunting list of issues post-cancer, yet all of this was, and continues to be, doable. How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.
My lymphedema was pretty minor and has not flared up in recent years. Until it settled down and stayed settled down, I was very diligent about wearing a compression vest and sleeve while flying. Honestly, it was not that big of a deal. To simplify getting through TSA, I would put these garments on after getting through security.
The neuropathy and osteopenia were a bit of a different story. Though I am fortunate my trouble was minor — neuropathy numbness impacts the outer toes of my right foot, and osteopenia weakens my bones. A few years ago, I broke some bones in that right foot when I missed the bottom step with my hands full. Was it neuropathy or just my left-handed klutziness? Would the bones have broken if I didn't have osteopenia? I am not sure. After foot surgery, all healed very well, and I count myself blessed by an excellent foot surgeon and physical therapist.
PTSD, anxiety, chronic fatigue, and chemo brain are things I continue to work on and manage on an ongoing basis. Talk therapy is a tremendous help and so is the SSRI medication that I take daily. Chronic fatigue has been frustrating but it is reduced when I make healthy eating and exercise choices. As for the chemo brain? There are mental exercises available, but honestly, sometimes it is nice to have an acceptable excuse when I have a brain burp and misspeak.
The point is, I am still here and I am managing. You will too. Yes, you are now in the club nobody wants to join, so here are some suggestions:
Long-term cancer side effects are manageable. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you cope with these side effects. Take a breath. You are here and you can do this.