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.
As we celebrate the holidays, wish lists are made for gifts. I have a wish list for cancer.
It's the holiday season, which is one of my favorite times of years. As an adult, I don't look forward to the presents and goodies as much as I did when I was a kid. I am all about family time, great food and maybe even a little time off work. However, it is still easy to get hung up in all the great gift ideas, new products, technologies and other fun things the retailers like to throw our way. The holidays are often filled with a bunch of "I want" type statements from all walks of life young and old. I was thinking the other day what would be on my "I want" list that is directly related to cancer. So, here goes:
Want #1: I want a world without cancer. I can feel everyone rolling their eyes here. Yes, we all want a cure is what I know everyone is thinking. Right, obviously. But isn't frustrating that so many people are affected it by it and we still don't have a cure? We can contact someone half way around the world in a millisecond, but we can't figure out how to stop cancer. However, I am keeping it on my want list. If we give up that easy, then this cancer demon will win. There is so much research happening every waking minute on cancer. That's the part that gives me hope and keeps me wanting to dream of a world with no cancer.
Want #2: I want to be free of cancer's long-term side effects. I did not come up with this, but someone sarcastically once said to me, "ah yes, cancer side effects, the gift that keeps on giving." So true, right? I was clueless on basically everything cancer related before I got sick. Then, once I got the diagnosis, I had to take a “learn-as-I-go” mentally. That wasn't terrible. The basics were pretty simple. I knew I had to have surgery and chemo, which led to hair loss. OK, fine. Then I got the list of the short-term side effects of nausea, exhaustion, pain, etc. I handled it. I'm sure somewhere in the novels of detail that my medical team gave me there are lists of long-term side effects that I just pretended would never happen to me. Things like cataracts before I turned 40…yes this really happened thanks to those steroids. I became post-menopausal before the age of 40. Good times! My memory is bit, well….wait, what was I talking about? (You get the idea).
Want #3: I want more mental support for cancer survivors. Yes, there is a substantial amount of support out there to help cancer survivors dissect their fears of cancer recurrence, anxieties and worries. However, I don't think there is enough. I think the emotional toll that cancer takes on a survivor is somewhat of a second, third or even a fourth thought in terms of cancer research, clinical trials, long-term medical support, etc. Again, I don't disagree about where mental support falls on the totem pole of cancer treatment. First and foremost, it's treating the patient and eliminating the cancer or getting it under control. However, once that takes place, I often feel like when the emotions are asked to wait at the door, they are never welcomed back in and given the treatment they need too. I'd love to see more research, programs and opportunities presented to survivors to help through the long, emotional road to recovery as well.
I will leave my cancer want list at three items. I have a never-ending list as I am sure many survivors do. I know my wants are being tackled, analyzed and researched and I can't wait for the day when I can literally cross them off my cancer list. That will be one special holiday for me.