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.
There is a way to do a little self-care and still learn the latest news in cancer advocacy and science. As survivors and those affected by cancer, we should have the luxury of doing both!
What if you had the chance to learn the latest in cancer research, advocacy and science while simultaneously taking care of yourself? It seems like an odd question, right? Well, I found the answer. As 2019 was rolling out its red carpet announcing its arrival, I was boarding a plane to Phoenix to attend the annual Escape to Thrive Cancer Advocacy Conference hosted by the nonprofit Bag It.
Over the last few years, I have been interested in getting more involved in cancer advocacy and education. I spent the first few years of my cancer survivorship life going to support groups and teaming up with other survivors to help the newly diagnosed. This is one of the utmost important things in survivorship to me. However, as my cancer survivorship journey extended out further in years, I struggled with hearing newly diagnosed stories to the point where it would trigger anxiety and fear in me as I constantly relived my diagnosis. What to do? I didn't want to leave the cancer community, but I couldn't go on living triggered every time someone said, "when the doctor told me it was cancer..." So, I took that as the sign and started doing more with advocacy. I've gone to Washington DC to lobby for rights of cancer patients. I've gone to educational trainings to learn the science of cancer. And, I spent a week in San Antonio listening to the latest news in breast cancer at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. I found my calling and my way to stay involved with cancer survivors and the newly diagnosed.
As I progressed through this new chapter of my life, I still found that triggers of fears and anxieties of cancer were present. Constant talk on cancer could have that effect on anyone. That's when a friend suggested the Escape to Thrive conference at the Miraval Resort just outside of Tucson Arizona. It seemed like just what I needed. Escape to Thrive is conference/retreat that provides a small group survivors, medical professionals and non-profit volunteers (there were less than 30 of us) to get together to hear latest news and information on cancer, work on team building in the cancer realm, develop new ideas on how to support those affected by cancer as well as working on our own individual self-care.
The conference lasts five days at the Miraval Resort. Each day was spent as a half day of learning and a half day of taking care of ourselves. The resort itself is all about simplicity, self-care and mindfulness. There are workout classes, pulls, mindfulness walks around the grounds, spa services, meditation time, and so much more. All of us, cancer survivors or not, never seem to find the time to just focus on ourselves. We are too busy, too tired, don't know how, or feel as if we are being selfish if we actually do spend some time on us. Escape to Thrive helps us change that. I wasn't really sure what to expect. All the conferences I have been to always are on a go-go-go schedule of non-stop lectures, dinners, poster sessions, etc. This was the opposite. And let me say, it was amazing.
I spent some quality time on me. I challenged myself to let go a bit and dance outside my comfort zone, by just that — I danced. I tried Zumba for the first time and didn't care who was looking. That's because everyone was so focused on themselves that they had no time to look at me stepping on my own feet. I practiced some mindfulness by taking a walk through the beautiful labyrinth on the property. I sat in a quiet spot and wrote in my journal. I took morning walks through the desert. I challenged myself on a tightrope obstacle course on the property. I threw my cancer fears in the corner and I did a lot of living. The group spent time together learning how to be more mindful as well. We opened up to each other as we talked about our personal triumphs and fears during a fireside chat on survivorship. I could go on and on.
The point is, whether you can get away for the day or a weekend, or an hour at that, to escape the cancer world a little bit and come back to yourself, it's worth it. We can't fight cancer battles or anything else in our lives if we don't take care of us first. For more information on Escape to Thrive and Bag It, check out their website below.