By Barbara Tako, Special for USDR
Two books, two very different topics—clutter clearing and cancer coping, and one author. Me. “Clutter Clearing Choices” touches on the commonality we share in trying to manage and organize all the extraneous stuff that creeps into our lives and offers a variety of seasonally organized suggestions, sometimes with a touch of humor. Cancer, on the other hand.. Hmm. Not so funny, and yet, there is humor in cancer at times, and both simple living and cancer teach us to focus on our priorities. “Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools” honestly shares my cancer journeys and struggles and offers cancer patients and the people who love them a variety of tools to help cope with cancer.
Some breast cancer survivors get complimented for facing their cancer treatment with courage and grace. I look back, four years out from chemotherapy, and I think, I got through my cancer with tears and fears. Are some people braver then others? Or do we differ in how we show our tears and fears or how much the different treatments mess up our hormones and emotions in the process? I don’t know.
I cried and worried my way through breast cancer treatment and the hormone driven and steroid driven emotional roller coast ride of my surgeries and treatments. I didn’t put a graceful face forward. My close friends and immediate family saw and heard extensively about my tears and fears. Looking back, maybe I should have spared them?
Maybe. We all have our burdens in life—health issues, broken relationships, financial or career struggles. It was okay to feel what I was feeling, but, in hindsight, I could have toned down how I expressed it to others.
I went through my cancer honestly with those around me. I wrote about my cancer honestly. I could have been honest with myself but put a braver outside face forward. In the end, does it even matter? Both the courageous graceful people and the tears and fears cancer patients get through their treatment. Both, whether they share it outwardly or not, live with fear of recurrence and with the uncertainty for the rest of their lives.
By being honest, maybe my friends and family will be better prepared to face cancer if it happens to them. On the other hand, putting a braver face forward to them might have made facing cancer look more doable if they ever have to personally face it. I honestly don’t know if how people saw me matters.
Cancer takes its toll either way. Cancer and cancer treatment takes from survivors physically, mentally, and emotionally. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have short-term and long-term side effects, but those treatments work—so far, I am still here. I am blessed to be here. I am grateful.
Cancer isn’t a fight or a battle. I am not a brave warrior. I am a woman. Cancer isn’t a gift. I didn’t get a special present. Cancer is a disease. When you get cancer, you suffer, you learn, you grow, and, over time, more or less time than you would like, you live and then you die. While you are living, you live with a cancer-enhanced awareness of your own mortality and what might be lurking within your body, and you live with constant uncertainty. Uncertainty is hard for most of us as human beings.
We want to know whether or not our medical tests show a problem or not. We want to know if we got the job we interviewed for or not. We want to know if the new baby is a boy or a girl. Certainty gives us knowledge which gives us the power to act based on that knowledge. We decide how we want to proceed based on certainty.
Uncertainty, on the other hand, eats away at us. It creates stress. It gives us constant doubt. Doubts create worries and worries create fear. Uncertainty, quite simply, wears people down. No one wants to live long term with uncertainty. Cancer survivors do just that.
Realty check: We ALL live with uncertainty. Some of us are just less aware of it than others. Having had cancer and living with the ongoing fear of recurrence just makes cancer survivors more aware of it on a very daily, intimate cellular and emotional level.
Things not to say to someone with cancer: When you find out I have cancer, don’t tell me, “Well, I could get hit by a car driving home today.” I know you are offering that in some way to “reassure me.” It isn’t the same. First, I don’t want you to get hit by a car anymore than I want you to get cancer. Second, your odds of getting hit by a car are not the same as my odds of having a recurrence. (On the other hand, if you have cancer, I learned the hard way, don’t tell a friend not to say it if they do. Their intention is good, and you just display your own anger and hurt them by saying it.)
Don’t share success or failure stories of other cancer patients you have known.
Don’t say you or someone you know has gone through exactly the same thing.
Don’t tell me I can beat this with a positive attitude, or a particular diet or mindset.
Things to say to someone with cancer: Ask how I am doing today and listen, really listen. Do tell me you are sorry about my experience and wish you could help. Do ask how you can help—and keep asking. Do offer very specific ways you are willing to help. Do, if you are really brave, tell me why our relationship matters to you—it will mean a lot to me to know I am not being sidelined or marginalized by you because of cancer.
So what is having cancer really about? It is about getting through a very personal very difficult time. The advice in my book is hard-won advice. It is advice I learned the hard way—by digging in and getting through this life experience—twice. First, the breast cancer and, a couple years later, the melanoma.
Here are a few of my coping tools (I didn’t make this stuff up. I researched.):
Connect with others—don’t go it alone, even if you are an introvert or loner.
Learn—knowledge is power and helps you regain some measure of control.
Live in the moments—slow down the monkey brain (racing thoughts),
Connect with nature.
Keep your hands busy, use any distraction.
Gratitude—focus each day on what makes you grateful.
Uncertainty—work on greater flexibility and learning to accept less control.
Ultimately, I learned coping tools that work for getting through many of Life’s less happy times. I increased the number of those tools in my tool bag and you can too!
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor since 2010 and a melanoma survivor since 2014. Beginning in 1998, Barbara Tako has been a professional seminar leader, speaker, and published writer on clutter clearing and home organizing. She has appeared on television, radio, and other media venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children, and dogs. Her books are available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com, or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.