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.
The only person who can stop the fears and anxiety that cancer brings to your life is you. If you allow those thoughts to take over, you get in your own way of enjoying your life.
I did not coin this phrase. I did not create this idea. People have been saying this forever: Don't get in your own way.
How often do you abide by these rules? I can only speak for myself here, but I rarely follow this advice. Long before cancer came into the picture, I was a worrier. I worried about everything. My mom even teased me that I worried whether or not the sun would come up. The worry got in my way because I let the worry get in my way. The worry always clouded my judgement, my actions and, most importantly, my happiness. I wasn't sad by any means, but I don't believe I really got the full experience out of everything I did.
Fast forward to being diagnosed with cancer. Surprisingly, something took over in me and for a short period of time, I didn't get in my own way. After I regained composure from hearing the words that I had cancer, I became focused. I honestly didn't worry, which was very uncharacteristic of me. I thought through things, made the best decisions for me and worked with my medical teams to put together the best plan for me. I am proud to say I made it through my surgeries and chemotherapy with a positive attitude. Looking back, I am grateful my worries took a holiday so I could focus on me and what I had to do in the toughest time of my life.
OK, so fast forward to when the treatment was finished and I was told I was done with cancer. Worry and fears came barreling toward me like a freight train with no brakes. Many survivors say that the worries and fears of cancer seem to subside the further you move away from your diagnosis and treatment. For me, it was quite the opposite. I got much, much worse. Every single day my fears would grow. An achy elbow: cancer. My foot hurts: cancer.
Everything was cancer to me and I acted on every single one of those fears. I let the fears take over. They drove my every experience. I didn't enjoy anything because I was so afraid. I couldn't see the fact that I had survived cancer and I should be enjoying every second. Instead, I saw that I survived cancer and was literally waiting for it to come back.
I completely got in the way of my life. I let fears, worry and cancer get in the way. I sat back and watched it happen. Yes, I do get mad at myself for it, but what good does that do any of us? There's nothing we can do about anything back there in the past, and it took me years to figure that one out. How did I finally get out of my way and figure out how to live again? Well, that's still a work in progress, but something I have improved on. Once I recognized what I was doing, I got some help. I talked to a therapist who helped me recognize what I was doing and gave me some tools to work through the fears. It's a work in progress, but it's made a huge difference in my life!
I also make it a point to review my actions. What am I doing today? Am I present in what I am doing? Am I letting fear take over? For me, I succeed in stepping out of my way when I remind myself to do the checks I just stated. It keeps me present and allows me to recognize when I am starting to fall victim of the cancer fears. It takes a lot of energy and it is hard to maintain daily.
I'd say to start, simply recognize what you are doing. If you can see that you are hindering yourself, you are halfway there. You can get into a pattern of recognition and then fight those fears. If the fears are too great, such as with my experience, don't be afraid to ask for help. That's why all these amazing therapists and social workers are out there! It is perfectly acceptable to get help. As I always say, as cancer survivors, we have fought and/or are fighting to keep our lives - it's time we make sure to enjoy them!