After cancer caught me off guard, I tend to wait for the other shoe to drop, even if that means getting scared when positive things come my way.
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 have always been a worrier. Worry was part of my life, long before cancer ever introduced itself into my world. People used to tease me that I worried about whether the sun would come up or not. I always worried. The worry was not exactly debilitating, but certainly annoying nonetheless. I figured out ways to cope with it and move on with my life. I always needed something to worry about, and that was that.
Then cancer came along and the worry that followed me around like a lost puppy took over like nothing I had ever experienced before. At the beginning, it seemed logical. I was diagnosed with cancer – how could a person NOT worry? All the “what ifs” swirled around me like a constant tornado. There was so much to think about, so many choices to make and then there was the one that was the utmost worry of them all – was this cancer going to kill me?
So, one would say this all made sense at the time. Move forward years into cancer survivorship, and that worry hasn’t gone away. It kind of took on a new look. Now, I worry when things go too well. Something positive happens, and it scares the daylight out of me. It’s taken a lot of thought to understand why. After a cancer diagnosis, everything changes, obviously. Your life is threatened and new instincts kick in like nothing you have ever experienced. You go through treatments and surgeries and come out the other side as a different person. If you have certain surgeries, you even come out looking like a different person. For me specifically, I lost my breasts. And mentally, you become someone else, too. New feelings, new worries, new fears and so much more have invited themselves into your mind.
Usually these new visiting emotions come in unwelcome. It’s hard to get them under control. Your mind starts to build up this protective cover to make sure you are not caught off guard again by something so surprising and awful such as a cancer diagnosis. You don’t want to ever feel that way, so you figure out new ways to make sure surprise never hits you again.
I think this is why I freak out when there is a slew of positives that come into my life. For lack of a better comparison, I don’t want to be caught with my pants down. That’s how I felt when I was told I had cancer. I was stunned, shocked, freaked out, etc. I hated those feelings. I never want to experience it again. So, when I have a bunch of positives come my way, I can feel myself freezing up and asking a ton of questions. What does this mean? Why is everything going so well? Should it be? What’s coming up for me? Should I let my guard down and just enjoy? I know it’s crazy but it’s hard not to think it. I should be happy when things go well. I should sit back and enjoy them. This is what living life is all about after all, right? Why can’t I just enjoy positives when they come my way instead of literally wondering when the show will drop? I don’t know if this is just part of my worrying nature or the scare of cancer. I think it’s a combination of both.
As I said I have always been a worrier. Cancer just heightens it. I just passed my seven-year cancerversary. I still worry about cancer; I still fear it. Over the last seven years, I have learned a lot about myself – some good and some tough. It has taken me a very long time to understand my fears of positive things in my post-cancer life. For many years, I just ran scared for no reason. Over the last few years, I have gotten help with my feelings from a therapist and then also myself. I needed to someone to help me open my eyes to it all as opposed to just running away. It seemed so ridiculous to fear positives and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Now that I understand the “whys” a little more, it’s not quite as scary. I still worry when good things happen. I am a worrier. That will most likely never go away. However, now I can catch myself, take a breath or a step back and just take it all in. I can enjoy something good as it happens and push the worry aside. It takes time and patience, but it’s worth it. I fought way too hard to keep my life. There is no way I am going to let these little fears get in the way of those amazing positives.