I was pretending life was great after my cancer treatment ended. Meanwhile, I was living in a cancer coma.
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.
It has been more than six years since my cancer diagnosis. I have spent the last five years fighting with my emotions. So, what happened to those first 18 months? In some ways, I literally have no clue. Seems odd maybe?
The first 18 months from my diagnosis were spent processing, planning and analyzing how my life was going to be saved, followed by multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, and, of course, followed by learning how life was like after a cancer diagnosis.
The majority of that was a complete blur. I was on autopilot — go to a doctor's appointment, prepare for my next chemotherapy, schedule my next surgery. Life kind of just went on as “normal” for me at that point, living as a patient with cancer.
But, it all changed when I finished active treatment and the doctors bid me my farewell and sent me back to my life. What just happened? I’ve said it before, but the best way to describe it is that I crashed and burned. I cried constantly. I feared every pain, every bump, lump and everything else I found around my body. I had no idea how to live this new life. I was at a complete loss.
So, I hid in broad daylight. I suppressed the feelings and emotions. I pretended life was flat out amazing and that I was loving every minute of life after cancer. One word: lie. I was putting on a show for everyone else. I feared internally and never told a soul just how terrified I was.
I was 32 years old when I was diagnosed and I was sure that turning 35 was a long shot. Turning 40? That was a pipe dream. I was surrounded by people in their mid to late thirties joking about how 40 was just around the corner and they were dreading it. I couldn’t even fathom that because I was hoping just to get to 35. During my time in this post-cancer coma, I forgot how to live. I flat out had no clue.
I hit rock bottom at about four years post cancer. I had been living in denial for most of it. I had never grieved my old life. I had never truly faced what happened to me. I was checking my body for lumps daily. I was literally fearful cancer was everywhere and had gone undetected. If it didn’t have to do with cancer, I wasn’t thinking about it. I was obsessed with cancer. It was at that time I sought out some much needed therapy. This action alone is probably one of the greatest things that I have done for myself. I needed help. I needed someone to show me how to see past the cancer and help me realize the cancer was not me. I was making it that way, but it certainly didn’t have to be.
It is now two years later and I am coming out of the cancer coma. I recently had the realization when I started looking into the future and realized it didn’t scare me as much. It was at this moment when I felt like I was coming alive again. It was a feeling I had missed and, quite honestly, couldn’t even remember. It felt good.
I still have my fears, and my emotions can still charge up like a bolt of lightning. I have been spending a lot of time learning to understand these feelings and emotions instead of running from them. I have tools that I can go to in order to put out the fire. I finally feel alive again.