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.
While celebrating the Fourth of July, perhaps it is time to celebrate our independence from cancer fears as well.
I was thinking about Independence Day this week, and was wondering if or how it can be related to cancer. I am always trying to figure out ways to break the ties that cancer, in its eyes, so lovingly tied around my body. Even eight years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I still feel the pulls and strains of the disease. My biggest struggles come from fears and anxiety that the cancer will come back. No matter what I do, I can't completely shake the thoughts. I am much better than I used to be, but still not completely rid of those fears.
I often fantasize about what it would be like to never fear cancer again. I wonder what it would be like to walk or run anywhere and not have cancer keep time with me. Unfortunately, everywhere I go, those cancer fears manage to tag along or sneak up on me when I am not looking. I honestly cannot remember how it felt to be me before cancer struck. I can certainly recall not fearing cancer, but that had a different feel back then. Back then, I thought I was invisible and figured cancer would never strike me. After it reared its ugly head, all that changed, obviously.
As I talk to other cancer survivors, I know I am not the only one who feels this way. After all, aren't we taught that this is our new normal? This is our life now. No, we don't have to define ourselves as cancer survivors, but we are different people as we step onto the other side of a cancer diagnosis. But how do we detach from those fears and anxieties that cancer brings with it? I have been wondering for years. I was a bit enlightened this past Fourth of July as I was thinking about what that day meant to America. We know this is the day that the colonies declared their independence from the British Empire and that they were forming their own new nation. As cancer survivors, can't we do the same? I don't think it is quite as big of a stretch as it sounds. Let me explain.
When we were diagnosed with cancer, we didn't get much of choice, right? We didn't choose to get cancer. We didn't hope for it. It just happened for whatever reason. We were told to do treatments and maybe got some choices in what kind of treatment, but that was about it. Then as we progress through our treatment and survivorship, we realize we are always somehow tied to cancer. For some, it's continued active treatment and fears that tend to stick around. For others, active treatment ends, and fears tend to stick around on that path as well. See what's in common? The fears and anxieties seem to always be present no matter what our treatment path is. For some it might not be as prevalent. Maybe it only comes up with a scan or the next doctor appointment. For others, it might be the anniversary of diagnosis, aches and pains, or some other trigger. However, for the majority of us, the reminder of cancer always lives nearby. So, what do we do?
Maybe it's time as cancer survivors, we declare our own independence — an independence from cancer. No need to sign anything or make any big production. You obviously can if you want. More so, maybe it's just an idea we tell ourselves. For me, I'd like to say to cancer that enough is enough. I am tired of being bogged down by feelings of fear, anxiety, despair and distrust in my body. I'd like to think that from this day forward I can change my opinion of cancer and how I view it. I'd say that from this day forward I am going to take a stand against the fears and let them know that I know they are there, but I refuse to let them control me. Lastly, I think it would be easiest to make this pledge on a day that I will certainly remember. Perhaps the reminding factor could be on the Fourth of July when America celebrates its independence, I could also remember to celebrate my independence from the cancer fears and anxiety that is always tailing me.