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 cancer diagnosis can take so much from a person. Perhaps it can give a little something too. Cancer can open up our eyes to finding the time we never knew we had to do the things we always wanted to do.
I always think about what cancer takes from people. As a breast cancer survivor, I can go on and on about all the things cancer took from me. Physically, I lost my breasts. Mentally, I lost my peace of mind. I also feel like I lost a piece of my innocence. I wasn't even 40 when I was diagnosed with cancer. For a long time, I lost my hope of living a long, healthy life. I could go on and on about what cancer has taken, but my thoughts turned to what has cancer given me besides so much grief? It's going to sound odd at first, but cancer has given me time.
I know that many people will say it is impossible for cancer to give you time. All it does is seem to take time from people. A diagnosis can cut a person's life short. It steals years away. It clogs time with nothing but doctor’s appointments, hours in a chemo chair, days, weeks or months full of recovery of surgery and so much more. That all is completely true, but it can give us hours back too. After I was diagnosed, I spent all my time figuring out my options, planning my treatment schedule, going through all the planned treatment and surgeries, followed by a long time of recovery.
I wrapped up everything about six months after my diagnosis and I was trying to push my way back into the life I once knew. I, like many, struggled to be that person I was before cancer, and therefore tried to figure out who I had become. It was near impossible. This is the point where I started to come to terms with what had happened to me. I had faced cancer. I had faced death and at that point, I had come out on the other side. Now what to do with the rest of my life? And, well, how long did I really have?
That is a terrifying question with no exact answer. We didn't know the answer before a diagnosis, and we don't know it after. It does linger. It does change the way you look at life and what you do with it. That is terrifying too — what to do with this life you have now after a cancer diagnosis? For me, I thought about it and felt that I had wasted so much of it. I thought I had all the time in the world. Before my diagnosis, I was a 32-year-old single woman, working a dream job and going with the flow. I had all the time in the world to accomplish the tasks on my bucket list. Every other thought I had was "I'll get to it someday." Someday. That seems like an eternity. A cancer diagnosis changes the meaning of “someday.” Someday is something you can no longer take for granted.
My post-cancer self wanted to grab hold of "someday" and make it today. That's when I realized cancer actually gave me time. It opened my eyes to time I had wasted saying yes to things I didn't want to do. It started by me planning out all the things I always wanted to do. I found time to do them. I said yes to only what I really wanted to do and said no to the things I didn't. I found time for me. I found time for the activities I wanted to do. I began planning trips to the places I always wanted to see. I found time to be with the family and friends I wanted to spend time with.
I no longer did things or spent time with people just because I thought I should. This is easier said than done, of course. I didn't drop everything and completely change my life. I just began to realize how short life really was and if I kept everything in my "someday" bucket of things to do, I'd never do them. They'd forever be seen as something I'd do when I got around to it someday in my life.
I never thought I'd get cancer and that reality struck hard. Time has become my most precious commodity and I knew I had to spend it the best way possible. It was time to find that precious time to do those things I always wanted to do, but never thought I had the time to pursue. Now, there is always a way to find that time; to make the space in the busy daily schedule and do those "someday" things today.