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.
You wouldn't keep an annoying friend around. Think of fear the same way.
Ever since my cancer diagnosis, fear has been the best friend that I never wanted. You know the kind? The one that comes over to play with all your awesome toys, not with you. The one that wants to be friends because you had the swimming pool. Fear is that friend that tags along to remind you that everything they have is always a one-up on you. That's what fear is to me. No matter how much I've asked fear to just leave me alone, it always comes along. I have tried breakup tactics, running away, changing who I was, etc. Fear doesn't care. It's still there. So, what to do?
For starters, stop giving a rise to your cancer fears. That is what fear feeds on. I've learned this one the hard way. I have lived for years with a knotted stomach. Fear had me surrounded and believing that I could literally not function without it. See how manipulative it is? Fear has you believing you need it to move forward. Mind you, I was always miserable, but I figured I just had to live with fear. I had convinced myself that I handled the emotions of my cancer diagnosis so poorly because I wasn't prepared for the worst. I figured cancer would never happen, so when I found out I had breast cancer, I had no idea how to handle it. Cancer latched on to those thoughts as if it was an invitation to come hang out with me permanently. Go forward a few years and every ache, pain, bump, lump and even a thought on cancer had me running for the hills. Fear, of course, tagged along. I fueled the fear by giving in to the panic. Fear took advantage of that, considered it an invitation and stuck around.
When fear of my cancer returning wore me out, I almost gave up and figured this constant pit in my stomach will be my life... oh, how awesome is that? Insert sarcasm here. Who wants to live that way? If the cancer is coming back, worrying, running and fearing every day won't change that. The only fun being had is by the fear itself. Slowly but surely, with the help from a therapist, I stopped giving in to every fear. I stopped panicking every time something ached in my body. I stopped running every time I saw fear creeping in. I started to notice it a bit more calmly. I even started to greet it as if I was expecting its arrival. I always knew it would show up, so why not just say hello. I stopped giving it a lot of attention, fighting it, insulting it and asking it to leave me alone. The fear got bored. Turns out I'm a bit boring to fear when I show it no interest. When I didn't fight back I just wasn't as fun.
Even though fear and I don't hang out as much, it still tries to visit. It comes calling quite a bit unfortunately. I think it's just waiting me out — waiting for me to cave, give in and invite it back into my life permanently. I'm still working on my techniques to fight. Running doesn't work. Yelling, kicking and screaming doesn't either. The more I downplay what fear brings out in me the better. It's tough, trust me. Saying and doing are two completely different things. However, looking out for yourself is the most important. I don't want fear as a permanent friend. It gives me nothing in return. The more I do the things fear doesn't like, such as acting nice towards it, inviting it to tag along, and keeping my cool around it, it gets bored and leaves me alone. You wouldn't keep an annoying person in your life as friend. Think of fear the same way.