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.
A little smiling action, as opposed to frowning or grimacing, might just help combat the cancer fears and maybe even make you feel a bt better, too.
I have no idea how anyone else's face works. However, I do know one thing: smiling works on all faces. As you read this, put a smile on your face right now. Just do it. How does it feel? No one is around so if you feel silly, I am going to stop your thoughts right there. Don't feel anything other than happy. As humans, we walk around worrying way too much about what everyone else thinks. Time to think of ourselves a few more times a day. Smiling is a good start.
When you hear the word “cancer,” whether you have it or not, smiling is the last thing you want to do. I get that. I've been there too. I think I forgot what a smile even was the first few days after my diagnosis. I remember thinking it then and I still remember it now, eight years later. I thought I would never smile or laugh again. Well, I did, and I ended up using that smile quite a bit as I was knee-deep in cancer treatment.
Over the years, I have talked quite frequently about the importance of humor, laughing and smiling while facing cancer. It is a game changer. OK, so I have no idea if there is official scientific research to prove my point, but quite frankly, I don't care. I am not promoting any type of medicine or exercise. I am promoting smiling.
If I could give out prescriptions I would prescribe everyone at least one smile a day - that's an order!
My family and I have always been a bit goofy, so the whole laughing and smiling thing came naturally to me. However, at my worst point, the cancer diagnosis and treatment portion of my life, I found it didn't come quite as naturally. I was terrified of everything from losing my hair, to how it would feel to lose my breasts, to the biggest fear of them all: was I going to live to my next birthday? As those questions were answered over that first year, more questions, fears and anxieties popped up. It came close to overpowering me, and at some moments in time, I thought the fears and anxieties would surely win. I am proud to say they haven't yet, but that didn't mean they failed to put up a good fight.
I knew it was time to talk to someone and get some additional help. So, therapy became my weekly exercise. One of the biggest tips I was given was to smile. At first I was like really? This is what therapy is telling me to do? Smile? Come on. But, my therapist pushed on and said just try it. Sit and smile. I had nothing to lose so I did. I sat and smiled. And as crazy as it sounded, it ended up feeling good. I felt good in that moment. I felt the anxiety and fears that sat on that couch with me kind of ease up just a tad. I didn't feel so scared for just a split second there. The power of a smile was pretty impressive.
As I progressed through my therapy, I found that smiling more did make a difference. You find you don't feel quite so depressed if you smile a bit more over frowning. When I feel myself grimacing through an anxiety filled day or frowning because I am currently in a state of cancer panic, I try to force myself to smile. That sometimes leads to a few deep breaths and a pause in the fears. It is not easy. I know I can make it sound simple — all you have to do is put a smile on your face and bingo, your fears of cancer vanish. Nope, that's not what I mean at all. I am just saying we all need to keep a few tools close to help us through these dreadful moments cancer brings us. My first tool, the quick, free and easy one is just to throw a smile on your face, if only for a minute or two.