Living in fear and worrying about cancer every day is not a way to live. I was given six amazing words of advice that were my wakeup call to get my life after cancer back.
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 struggled living as a cancer survivor almost more than I struggled when I found out I had cancer in the first place. I can’t say I understand it and I am not sure I ever will. None of this makes sense to me. Maybe that’s a good thing – I just don’t know.
We get thrown into this cancer world without being asked or even told it was coming. There are no questionnaires to see which cancer suits you best, how your tumor will be found, the size, what kind of treatment you like best, etc. One day it just shows up and tells you it’s in charge. I don’t flourish in worlds where the plans are made for me, can change in a blink of an eye and so-called “choices” usually consist of one option. I have been living in this world for seven years now. I like to call myself an expert at the understanding of cancer chaos and confusion. That’s cancer. I am a planner by nature and want all the details. I wanted to plan my every move and know exactly what to expect. Cancer doesn’t work that way and it has taken me this long to accept that.
As I mentioned, I still don’t understand it, but I have come to better terms with it. Where I still struggle is the constant wonderings of whether my cancer will come back or my body will form some other type of new cancer. There really is no way to know that for a fact. I’ve lived my first years in cancer survivorship just waiting and wondering. Actually, it is more like living in fear all the time. I check for lumps and worry that I am missing the signs of cancer somewhere. I’ve gotten better at dealing with it but it’s always around.
During the peak of my fears, I practically couldn’t function. Cancer followed my every move and I thought about it 24-7. I hounded my doctors for unnecessary tests and constant reassurances that I was fine. It was me vs my mind and my mind was always winning. This is not a great way to live life after surviving cancer. The few times that I did get an MRI or an ultrasound due to some scare that was just part of life after cancer, the tests would come back normal. I would be relieved for a few days and then the fears would creep in again. I’d just assume the tests were wrong. Maybe the MRI machine was broken? Maybe the technician doing the ultrasound missed a spot? Maybe this and maybe that; those were my mantras in the first years after cancer.
Obviously, that is no way to be healthy. I was harming myself as much, if not more than, the cancer itself. Then one day, my mom spoke some amazing words to me that I still think about today. She said, “You know, you are entitled to be healthy, right?” That was it. It was literally one sentence that woke me up. It was like I was punishing myself. For what, I don’t really know. Maybe it was just fear talking. Those worlds were the bolt of lightning I needed to wake up.
She was right. We ALL have a right to be healthy. Things will happen to us, to our friends and to our family members. Sometimes they will be great things, and sometimes they will be more challenging then we hope or anticipate. However, walking through life like I was doing is something that just doesn’t work. Living in fear is not an ideal form of living. Those words from my mom were my wakeup call. They were the beginning.
I go now to a therapist to learn ways of combatting all the cancer trauma. It’s hard to completely wake up from that nightmare but I am happy to say I am working hard on it. I just needed those words to get me on the path to living again. So, I say it to anyone going through anything really, “We are ALL entitled to be healthy. We all have a right to work towards that and make the decisions that best get us there and keep us there. Fear is not entitled. Worry is not entitled.” Those thoughts think they are, but no way. I share these words in hopes that maybe they will help someone else. Six basic words with insurmountable meaning: You are entitled to be healthy.