Beating Clutter And Cancer
Home organisation expert Barbara Tako has conquered cancer twice, and her book helps others survive this dark phase in their livesBy Aatika H Jain
When a young Barbara Tako first visited her husband’s home, she was greeted by an intimidating sight: a neat, tidy house where every single thing was in its proper place. Not a tiny bit of clutter. Inspired by her motherin- law’s award-winning organising skills, Tako soon became a clutter-clearing expert, teaching herself and other young mothers the art of home organisation. Perhaps it is with the same efficiency that she uses to organise her home that this woman was able to successfully beat cancer twice. “I was terrified. I felt like someone had stuck a knife in my chest and no one would ever be able to fully remove it,” says Tako, about her first diagnosis. A mother of two, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. It is now nine years after her first diagnosis, and the breast cancer never resurfaced. However, in 2014, cancer did come came back as melanoma. Tako was then a little more prepared. “It was helpful that I knew what questions to ask my doctor—type, stage, grade, and treatment plan for the melanoma,” she says. Her odds against melanoma were the same as breast cancer, so she was more confident of beating it.
“KEEP YOUR HOPE. BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF AND GIVE YOURSELF TIME. WE DON’T EXPECT LOVED ONES TO CURE OUR CANCER. WE JUST HOPE TO FEEL HEARD AND SUPPORTED AND NOT JUDGED OR SHAMED DURING THE PROCESS.”Barbara Tako Author & cancer survivor
Tako writes a series of articles for cancer warriors, with expert tips on coping and recovery. Although most of these articles focus on the need to remain positive, she admits that her own fight was not one laced with positivity. “I learned to do mindfulness meditation, keep my hands busy (petting the dog or crocheting), and to journal my way through the terrifying fears. It helped even more to be with my family,” she recalls. Tako highlights the need to connect with friends, family and other survivors to maintain a positive outlook. “Do not do cancer alone. Reach out to friends and family members and also to fellow cancer survivors,” she advises. She remembers how the leader of her breast cancer support group, who has been cancer-free for many years now, was a huge source of inspiration for her.
Long before cancer made its appearance, Tako was a familiar name, both as an author and speaker. Her first book was Clutter Clearing Choices, on efficient home organisation. She was inspired by her mother-in-law, who was once nominated for Suburban Homemaker of the Year. “I realised that because she had household clutter more under control than most of us, she had time for her life priorities—her faith, her family, and her friends and interests. I wanted that too,” says Tako, who then began reading up on clutter-control and trying out a number of tips. She was invited to speak at women’s group meetings and other organisations. She soon started writing a ‘Simple Living’ column in a local newspaper; this soon became popular. It was from this column that Clutter Clearing Choices was born. In fact, it was while she was helping with the promotional activities of the book that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and all had to be brought to a halt. Even now, Tako is often seen online in videos on clutterclearing and home organisation. In her fight against cancer, Tako discovered a serious lack of helpful resources. “I felt that the doctors were doing a great job treating my physical problems, the cancer, but I was struggling to find resources to get through the emotional and mental aspects of my cancer.” This led her to author Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools, a record of her fight against cancer, which acts as a helpful guide to navigate one’s way through the disease. In her words, “I wanted to help fellow cancer survivors feel less alone and to provide them with a support group in book form.”
The book is a very intimate take on the ups and downs of fighting cancer, one that seeks to relieve the emotional and mental torment that no amount of treatment can possibly curb. “I wrote Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools to help others understand what having cancer feels like and to provide a wide range of coping tools to help fellow cancer survivors,” she says. Post-recovery, Tako hopes to come across as a kinder, gentler and wiser soul to everyone she interacts with. “There are many kinds of cancer, other illnesses, and life circumstances that are difficult for people to get through and recover. All of us deserve kindness,” she says, with the wisdom of someone who has seen life’s worst. To the warriors, her advice is simple: “Keep your hope. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself time.” Her very profound words to caregivers is to listen: “We don’t expect loved ones to cure our cancer. We just hope to feel heard and supported and not judged or shamed during the process.” Tako currently lives with her husband in the Twin Cities in Minnesota