The words "cancer" and "thank you" don't usually go together.
Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
I often wonder if it is possible to actually thank cancer. Now, before shouting a big “no” and refusing to read further, let me explain. I flat out wish cancer never entered my life. It’s the worst. Six years later, and I still can remember the day I was told I had cancer just as if it happened yesterday. Those words completely changed my life forever.
But as I look back over the last six years, not everything is all that bad. That’s how I started to reflect on whether or not I could thank cancer. It is weird to think and even harder to say, but let me break it down. The biggest change in my life was the fact that I used to always wait around for “someday.” Someday I would move back to Chicago where my family lives. Someday I would take a trip down to Key West. Someday I would put together a bucket list of the little things I never did and set out to actually do them. Someday, someday, someday. That thought process immediately halted after the cancer diagnosis. Now the someday usually turns into today, or at least it gets an official date set on my calendar. I haven’t achieved everything, as there is so much on the list. However, I have to say I thank cancer for kicking my butt into gear and forcing me to look at the list of “somedays” and put a little action behind them.
I ended up moving back to my favorite city, Chicago, after being away for more than 12 years. I don’t think I ever would have actually made that move had I never gotten sick. I changed jobs and set out on a different path. I started traveling more than I ever have in my life, a lot thanks to travel being a part of my job, but a lot because there were places I just flat out need to see before I die. And that’s whether I die of cancer or not.
Switching gears, cancer was my contact person to meeting a whole new group of friends. These are people I am not sure I would have ever met had it not been for the big “C.” They were there when I needed support. They were there when I needed to see that other people who were diagnosed with breast cancer were still living, who beat it and who were getting on with their lives. So, I thank cancer for the connection to an amazing group of cancer survivors that I will be forever grateful are now part of my life.
Lastly, cancer forced me to look at me – to really see me. I thought I was just living and going with the flow. I thought I was happy with me and that everything was just perfect in my life. It wasn’t until I stared death in the face that I realized all I was really doing was hiding behind. It wasn’t that I was miserable in my life before cancer, but I realized after my diagnosis that I wasn’t necessarily the person I wanted to be, or even who I thought I was. I think I was living the way I thought I should be, the way the world wanted me to be, instead of just who I was. I have to thank cancer for opening my eyes and allowing me to come out of my shell and start working toward the true me. I am not all the way there yet. I am not sure I ever will be. However, I am learning how to take risks and go after what I want. I am learning that it is not okay just to settle. I am learning that I don’t have to follow the stereotypes that the world has set if those don’t fit into my life’s agenda. Cancer has taught me that I only get one chance at this life. I might as well live it my way and have no regrets. No, I am not glad I got cancer and I never will be. However, I thank it a bit for that “someday” is now today, filled with wonderful new friends and a changed attitude about myself.