There are some days that, for no reason at all, I struggle to cope with being a cancer survivor. So does that mean I am a failure at survivorship?
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.
As a human, there is a lot to learn in life, period. There is no instruction manual, no training and really no guide. You pretty much just learn as you live. As a cancer survivor, we get to write an extra chapter or two — how to live as a cancer survivor. Let’s face it, it sure isn’t easy.
I have been trying for six years now, and I think I am getting pretty good at it. I hope I get to learn for many years to come. Most days, I recognize I survived cancer and just move on with my day. Other days are not so easy. Some days I literally just can’t cope with it. Am I a failure because of this? The simple answer is no. But is it that simple? I wish I could say 'yes' to that.
I see a lot of survivors say they can do well on a daily basis and the stress of cancer doesn’t get to them unless they have a test coming up, a doctor’s appointment, maybe a new cancer scare, etc. Trust me, I get those freak out moments too, but what about in the day-to-day to life? Does anyone struggle to cope just because they are surviving cancer? I can answer I big 'yes' to that for me, personally. I do struggle to cope sometimes. Those times, it is often for no reason at all. I worry — what is wrong with me? Am I a failure because I wasn’t triggered by anything specific? There are plenty of days when there are no tests on the radar. I have no doctor appointments and no other reminder of cancer in my calendar or list of things to do. However, those seem to be the days when I tend to have a panic attack. My mind races and the thoughts pour out like a waterfall; what did the doctors miss? No one has checked me in four months. Everything seems too quiet, too perfect and too happy; that means something has to go wrong. The list of thoughts goes on and on and on.
This happens just because, and makes me feel like I can’t cope with being a survivor. Then I start the comparisons. Everyone else seems to be hanging in OK. It must just be me. Why do I do all these comparisons to others and how they are handling their diagnosis, their survivorship, etc.? Shouldn’t I be allowed to just not cope sometimes? After all, I had something tragic happen to me. Who cares if it was six years, six months, six days or six minutes ago? Cancer happened to me and it changed me. I should get to have a vacation day from coping kingdom if needed. It’s not that I want to be there by any means, but sometimes I just can’t handle it. What I need to do is realize that I am not a failure for feeling this way. In fact, none of us are. It’s tough water to navigate. Sometimes it is near impossible. I think it’s what makes us human and what keeps us living. We have that drive to succeed. So, if I fail at coping one day, it means I get to get up the next day and walk towards the road of success.