After a cancer diagnosis, it can feel as if your body has failed you. How do you go back to trusting it again?
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.
Throughout our lives, we are told we must trust in ourselves, trust in others, trust in life. Trust is a word that is taught from the beginning. When you are a baby, you trust that your family will take care of you. They feed you, keep you warm and make sure you are safe. At that young of an age, you don’t even know what trust is, yet you still live by it. It’s instinct.
As you grow, you learn what defines trust. You learn the hardships that come along with trust and when those you love falter on their promise of trust. You also experience the joys and love that come with trust. You learn to trust yourself to find your way and live your life. You go after your dreams. You find others that fit your same lifestyle and you build your life. You make assumptions that nothing bad will happen to you, yet you make a plan just in case. You put money in savings and set up insurance accounts. You don’t plan on using the insurance for anything big, and you hope you never have to, but you have it just in case. Then one day it happens and all you have known and trust fails.
In my mind, that loss in trust came from my body. I had taken care of it and did the best I could to protect it. I didn’t smoke or do anything harmful to it, yet it still failed me. It got cancer and there was nothing I could do about it. I was so mad at my body. How could it let this happen and what did I do wrong that it got cancer? I know it’s not logical to think this, but I couldn’t help it. I went through cancer treatment and my body healed. However, my mind was far from calling itself cured. How could I ever trust my body again? In my eyes, it failed me for no reason. It got cancer and at this early stage in the game I was unsure I could ever forgive it.
So, I walked without balance on a tightrope. Every moment that I had an ache or pain, I automatically assumed my body failed again and the cancer was back. I would do a quick exam of the area. Do I feel a lump? Is there something there? Thankfully that was a no, but it was so hard to trust. I had gotten myself into this horrible routine of thinking my body was a failure and I could never trust it to tell me something was wrong. I woke each day fearing the worst, even though there were no signs pointing to anything wrong. I had no idea how to get that feeling of trust back that I was born with – that feeling of blind trust and acceptance. I had become a slave to my emotions and my body.
This was not how I wanted to live my life after cancer. I was not free. I was always fearful and I was living each day like it was my last and not enjoying it. What to do? Well, I suffered like this for a while—a few years, in fact. Then one day I had enough and I knew this was not the way to live. I ended up getting some help and it was the best decision I have made in a long time. I had to be taught again how to trust. I had to learn how to trust my doctors and the treatment they gave me. I had to trust that my body had healed. I had to trust that my body would tell me if something was wrong and give me signs. This was not easy. There is no way to go to sleep with one mindset and wake up with a whole new one. The mind just doesn’t work that way.
It has taken a lot of practice and to be honest, I am still working at it. I trust my body more than I have in a long time. I believe in my doctors and the medicine that was administered to me. I believe in all that. I have to, or I will never recover from my cancer diagnosis. There are still plenty of days when I wonder if my body is telling me the truth. Is it hiding something I haven’t found yet? Will it stay healthy? I don’t know, but nobody really knows this about their body or their health. This is one of those times you must have blind trust and just believe. A little practice helps. As I wake up each day, I think about trust and what it means to me. I accept it for the day and carry it along with me. I trust it will be a good day and continue on my journey.