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The Calm Anxiety of Cancer

After cancer, calm and anxiety go from two separate states of mind to form a new way of thinking and perhaps even fighting the fears that come with being a cancer survivor.
PUBLISHED August 01, 2016
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 just celebrated my six-year cancerversary, and as I reflect back over the last six years, I have noticed that I am constantly in two states of mind: calm and anxiety. That’s pretty much it. I find that if I am not in one of these places, I am most certainly in the other, and almost nowhere in between. Before cancer, I didn’t know this state of life existed. I understood the feeling of calm. I understood what anxiety was all about, but I had no idea they could escalate to this whole new level. In fact, I realize that they actually have combined into one emotion which is just calm anxiety. It’s now become one feeling.

Cancer is a game changer. I have no need to explain that any further, as I think the statement speaks for itself. Cancer takes your life in the direction of calm anxiety too. Have you ever experienced this? Let me explain the first time this happened to me. This calm anxiety happened after I felt a lump in my breast and was having it examined by my doctor. She didn’t seem terribly worried, but still ordered tests to be sure. I was calm, but freaked out because there was certainly a lump there in a place where there should not be one.

I had calm anxiety when the tests couldn’t rule for cancer, but didn’t rule it out either. Calm anxiety continued after the lump was removed and abnormal cells were detected but yet, no cancer. Through all of this, I felt calm, but had that nagging anxiety living right next door to my calm state of mind. It’s the weirdest feeling. After the lump was removed, further testing revealed cancer, and I had no calm in my life for a while. Looking back though, I think there was some calm with the anxiety that I just didn’t realize. I heard the words: “You have cancer” and my world turned upside down. Yet, I had this calm feeling like I knew I was going to live and get through it. This feeling has stuck with my all through my cancer journey. It just took me six years to figure out what the feeling is. It is calm anxiety.

As I travel through life as a survivor, I find that I am in this state of calm anxiety constantly. I feel like it can be hard to explain to some people, especially those who have not been through a traumatic experience. I walk through life calmly acknowledging that I am a cancer survivor and at this point survived. However, there is always this feeling of fear that goes with that calm, this feeling of “what if” and tons of other questions that go with it like when, where, how, etc. The anxiety tends to then creep in and build up if an ache or pain follows along with these constant questions of what will happen to me next. Calm anxiety is when you feel this pain and acknowledge the fear that goes with it. Your thoughts jump immediately to thinking that your cancer is back. Before cancer, I was just calm when I felt pain and figured I strained a muscle, slept wrong, etc. Calm anxiety adds the anxiety to those thoughts.

To me, it is now part of my cancer survivorship world. It’s a state of mind. It’s a way of life. The anxiety is cancer’s fault. The calm is what I bring to fight it. I think the combination of the two is one of the ways I keep fighting and moving on. It saves me from being in a full on anxiety state of mind all the time. I think it is what keeps me surviving and fighting. If nothing else, the calm anxiety keeps the fears and thoughts at a distance so I can go on living my life.
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