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.
This week, I celebrated eight years since diagnosis. It brought back a lot of thoughts and feelings.
This past week I hit my eight-year cancerversary from the day of my diagnosis. Half the time I can't remember what I did yesterday, but that day I remember vividly, as if, in fact, it was yesterday. I remember what I was wearing, what I was doing and where I was. I am not sure that will ever change. However, the way I feel about that day has toned down a bit over the years. I used to absolutely hate it and even more so, dread it. Now I see it coming and my feelings are much more subdued. That got me thinking as to why that was and more so, reflecting on the last eight years.
A quick recap of my diagnosis: I was diagnosed eight years ago with breast cancer at the age of 32. It was July 13 and for obvious reasons, 13 became a number I dreaded. This year, the anniversary of my diagnosis was the ever-interesting Friday the 13th. I can be a bit superstitious so all the more reason to dread this year's anniversary and even more surprising to me that I didn't. I have a few thoughts and reflections as to why that might be.
Time seems to play a role in the human's ability to move on from tragedy. I was a doubter of this for years after my diagnosis. Everyone kept saying it will get better over time. For years, I had been waiting and waiting for this to happen. The first few years after my diagnosis were rough emotionally. Then even after I finished my long-term treatment, things were still extremely tough for me and my ability to work through my emotions. I kept thinking, “when is this time thing going to kick in and allow me to feel better about survivorship?” There is no exact date for anyone as to when they might feel better about their cancer situation. For some, they can recover fairly quickly. For others, it may just take a long time to process. I think I am in the latter category. I am not sure I will ever fully recovery emotionally as to what cancer has done to me, but I was happy to see it not be quite as frightening on my eight-year cancerversary.
I always say this, and I think everyone would agree, that giving cancer any sort of credit for anything is ridiculous. It really has no positive baggage attached to it. However, I will speak out of both sides of my mouth in saying it can bring out some positives in a person's life. For me, my cancer gave me the swift kick I needed to get my life on the path that I wanted. It woke me up. That's probably the best way to describe what it did. My life prior to cancer was perfectly fine. I was happy, I was doing things I wanted to do, and I was in a profession I liked. However, I wasn't where I had dreamed to be. My cancer diagnosis changed all that. I realized right then and there that if I recovered and made it through my treatment, I had to make some changes. And honestly, these changes probably would have never happened if that diagnosis didn't exist.
For starters, I realized I was not in the place I wanted to be living. I was living out of state and found I wanted to be back in my hometown. I realized I wasn't in a job that I was as happy as I could have been, so I quit and started a new one. I didn't change careers completely but went down a road, that in all honesty, I never would have chosen had that day eight years ago never existed. I found that I loved to travel and wasn't doing it enough. So, I started saving my pennies and taking trips where I could. This year I just went to Australia, a place I've wanted to go my entire life and figured was just a dream. I saved for years to take that trip this year and I do believe that had I not gotten sick, I am not sure I ever would have been motivated to try for it.
My biggest hope when I was diagnosed was that I would hit eight years as a survivor. I know, that seems like an odd number, but it had quite a bit of meaning to me. It meant I would get to see turning 40 years old. I know people run from that number, but I couldn't wait to run to it! It would mean I would get to live at least eight years after breast cancer. It would mean I would get to enjoy my life a bit more and do more things. Well, I hit it and I celebrated like crazy. Now I have hit eight years as a cancer survivor and I love it. The number might be an odd amount to celebrate but not for me. Of course, every year I get to celebrate a cancerversary, I am all for it. However, this year's cancerversary had some special meaning. Reflecting on it felt good and it also keeps me motivated.