A cancer diagnosis is not something any of us plan for. Be sure to have patience with yourself during and after treatment.
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.
Patience is a key word during a cancer journey. There are unlimited questions, tons of doctor appointments, decisions to be made, etc., but you still have to work through the daily tasks in your life, like those things that were there long before a cancer diagnosis and those things that don’t go away just because you have cancer. Things like bills to pay, family members to take care of and jobs to do are all things that still need your attention, even as you are trying to figure out how to process cancer.
With all that happening, patience can be far and few between. The key is being patient with yourself first and foremost. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, I worried about everyone else’s thoughts and feelings first. What would they say? How would they handle me telling them I have cancer? Would they work through it OK? Would their lives be OK?
I never once thought of myself. I figured I had to go through the cancer, but everyone else had to watch me, so I wanted to be sure they were OK. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but it can catch up with you down the road if you don’t give yourself some TLC along the way. I worried so much about everyone else’s feelings that I totally forgot about my own. I forgot to check in with myself and make sure I was handling my feelings well. I forgot to mourn and be upset that I had cancer. When these thoughts did come around, I got so mad at myself. I didn’t have time for any of these “woe is me” thoughts. How could I think of myself in a time like this?
Down the road, my lack of worrying about myself eventually caught up with me. After all my surgeries were completed and chemotherapy ended, I tried to get right back into my life. The first year after my diagnosis, I planned activities every weekend to do things with the friends and family members who were there for me. I kept myself super busy and worked around their schedules, completely forgetting about my own. I got frustrated with myself for thinking about saying no to someone. I didn’t know how much time I had, so I had to make sure that I did everything and anything.
When I finally slowed down, I crashed. My emotions caught up with me, and so did the cancer diagnosis. I was frustrated with myself because I wanted my old life back. I was not a fan of the new normal. I wanted that young, innocent girl to be back – the one who was happy and carefree. I had zero patience for this new person who was trying to put on this amazing front of positivity even in the eyes of cancer. I wanted to be the perfect cancer survivor who didn’t get upset. The one who was the cheerleader for everyone else. The one who brushed off the fears and pretended nothing bothered her. I had no patience for who I was hiding on the inside – the person that was scared out of her mind. The one that didn’t know how to handle cancer.
I never gave myself a chance. I brushed off cancer as fast as possible and wanted to jump back into my life as if nothing happened. It seemed easier and less scary. These thoughts did not help me long-term and it has been a struggle for me as a cancer survivor. My fears and sadness caught up with me long after I was done with active treatment. With the help of talking it all out with a therapist, I am in a much better place than I was before. I realized that maybe I physically cared for myself during and after cancer treatment, but completely forgot to care for myself emotionally. Patience was something that wasn’t part of my cancer glossary. It’s a big piece of the puzzle, and I missed.
It is so important to be patient with yourself first. You need to grieve what cancer takes from you. It’s OK to be sad and not put on the constant happy front. Be open with others about your emotions and what you need from them. Take time for you during and after treatment. Do the things you like to do, but only when you want to do them, not because it works out best for everyone around you. Rest when you need to and enjoy those moments. Take care of yourself as you see fit. There is only one of you that ever gets the chance to live. Make sure you do it with patience and self-love.