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The Art of Acceptance After Cancer

After a bout with cancer, many things change. Quite a few of those things are changes that can never be changed back to the way it used to be. So, how does one go about learning acceptance?
PUBLISHED January 16, 2017
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
Oh, acceptance. You are quite the word, aren’t you? Your meaning is twofold. It can be associated with good things and be a menace with the bad. So, how does someone become one with you? I am still trying to work that out.

Acceptance is a word I have struggled with long before cancer graced me with it’s unfortunate presence. On the good side, acceptance can be seen with a positive. For example, this is when someone offers us their time, does a good deed for us, offers support or encouragement when we need it most. We are accepting with gratitude what they are offering. We can learn to accept help when we can’t fend for ourselves or need a boost of encouragement.

The not-so-sunny side of acceptance comes along, in many ways, when we must flat out accept a situation we didn’t ask for, acceptance of bad news that won’t change and/or accepting something about ourselves. Of course, with many of us, this also means accepting we have cancer or have had cancer at one point or another. It also means accepting what that cancer has done to us, both physically and mentally. Even as I type this, I feel myself getting a bit frustrated, fighting off a bit of denial, a bit of fear and even a bit of a tantrum which starts with: “I don’t want to accept what happened to me.” No, it doesn’t include stomping around, with my arms crossed in front of my chest along with a bout of screaming and yelling; but wouldn’t that just feel good every now and then?

With all that being said, I decided to make my word of focus this year ACCEPTANCE. It seemed like a logical choice, even though what I wanted to do was keep that word locked away and pretend it doesn’t exist. My focus of acceptance this year is not about allowing people to help me or taking what they have to offer. It’s about accepting me and what that nasty cancer has done. I still have a lot mental anguish. I have a lot of fears and anxiety. I still live with questions of what if, when, how and the big one: WHY. Sure, in the most basic of terms, I have accepted that cancer has happened to me. However, I am still in the denial of what it did. My body is different. There are things I can’t do anymore. There are things that have changed—things I didn’t want to change. Things that I have to accept as changed and in no way are going back to the way they were before. So, to me, the art of acceptance is unknown territory. It’s going to be learned this year. I think, with anything involving arts, there is a lot creativity allowed to happen. There is a lot of personal interpretation that goes with it. It can be expressed, lived, understood and brought out into the open any which way that suits the artist. That’s the approach I am taking with acceptance this year. I will be the artist and acceptance, my muse.
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