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.
It's the approach we take when handling trauma in our life that can make all the difference.
Life after trauma is one of the toughest things to work through. There is no instruction book to help you get back on track. Everyone wants you to be who you were before the trauma struck, but that person you were took a lunch and never came back. It can be upsetting, frustrating, sad and maybe, just maybe, even a little bit joyous because you get the chance to get your life on a track that works best for you.
I'll start with how I handled my life trauma. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 32 years old. There are no bigger shocks in my life than when the doctor called to tell me the news. I was all smiles when I answered the phone because this was me after all, so I know I didn't have cancer. Surprise! This is trauma calling to tell you that your life is thrown completely up-side-down. Good luck getting any resemblance of it back — like ever. I felt like I was standing on a teeny island in the middle of the ocean with nothing to grab hold of.
I went through my treatment and doctor's appointments and followed their orders to a T. I never fell off the path and did literally everything they told me. When my last chemo treatment came and went, I was given a certificate, a slap on the back, wishes of wellness and off I went back to my life. Well, it was my life, but I didn't know it anymore. I had no idea how to approach it, where I was with in it and most of all WHO I was. I refused the new normal ideas because I didn't want this new way of life to be my normal. No thanks! So, I lived in rejection which did wonders for my mental instability. I couldn't function at all. That thought process lasted for a long time. Then I started to realize it was not about accepting a new normal life. It was about re-learning my life. People who have physical body injuries or brain injuries have to learn to do the same things they always did in a different light. Isn't that the same thought process for people who have faced traumas such as cancer?
I've been taking that same approach to affectively re-learn my life and who I am compared to who I was. In a sense, it is all about the approach, not to mention a bit of revised thinking to get you started. Here are a few tips to approach re-learning your life after trauma.
1. There is no right way and no time limit. So, forget what everyone tells you about immediate acceptance, and getting back to your life. That timeline is yours and yours alone. You may feel ready to jump right in to your post cancer diagnosis life immediately. Or, you may feel you just need to walk around the edges, waiting for the right time to wade back into it. Awesome! It's your life, your timeline.
2. Patience, patience, patience. This process is not easy. A lot has changed so be patient with yourself. Your reactions to your body will take time. You may be so angry at it for getting cancer that you don't even want to look at it. I say that's totally acceptable. I spent a lot of time angry at my body, thinking that I took care of it and this is the thanks I get … cancer? You can't rush this step. I will also throw in that it would be a good idea to exercise some patience with your friends and family. It is easy to say that they didn't go through your personal trauma so they don't understand which may be true, but know that they want to be there for you. They may not know all the right things to say and do so be patient with them too.
3. Communication is key. Opening up to a trusted person whether it is a friend, family member, counselor or spiritual leader can really help reduce the emotional burden that trauma carries along. You might even get some advice as to how to handle the re-learning of your life from someone else who has been there too.
No one said trauma was easy. Someday maybe someone will create an instruction manual but until then, just take it one step at a time and listen to yourself. You will know what works best and the timing to get there. It's one step at a time.