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.
A cancer diagnosis means lots of treatment appointments, decisions to make and fears to face. Setting goals, whether short-term or long-term, can help get you through the journey.
I am a planner. I have always been a planner for as long as I can remember. I am not much for flying by the seat of my pants. No, I don't have to plan every waking moment of my life, although given the option, I'd probably attempt it. It's just the way I function. So, when cancer's unfortunate presence granted me some of it's time, I knew I had to keep close to my planning skills in order to get through my diagnosis of breast cancer. I got all my doctor appointment scheduled out as far as they would let me, all my treatments, all my surgeries and anything else my medical teams would let me schedule as early as possible. It gave me a little control of what seemed to be a virtually uncontrollable situation. That’s another of my least favorite things: no control.
One characteristic that comes with being a planner is goal setting. This is another favorite of mine. I set myself some goals through my entire cancer treatment process. I had short-term and long-term goals. I carried that goal setting through active treatment, as well as through cancer survivorship. Now, eight years after diagnosis and I still have goals to get me through. Let me breakdown my process a bit as I feel that setting goals is really what helped me through one of the toughest challenges of my life - cancer.
The early goals. This is where you start after a cancer diagnosis. In my opinion, these are the goals that get you through the next few minutes, few hours and few days after you hear that you have cancer. Your mind is rushing all over the place, and you are not thinking straight. Who can blame you? Set some goals. They should include stopping to take a few breaths to clear your mind and calm you down. Remind yourself to do this every so often. You will need to think as straight as possible as so much is going to happen in such a short period of time. Set a short-term goal of trying to still focus on your day-to-day activities as much as possible to keep some sort of order in your life.
As plans are in place and treatment starts, set some goals. For example, the goals for me during this time were to be as active as possible after my bilateral mastectomy. I was home recovering for six weeks between my surgery and first round of chemo. I was exhausted and in pain. My goal was to take a walk every day. It started with circling the block to expanding my walking circle further out as my body healed. I went to physical therapy with the goal to raise my arms over my head to wash my own hair again. See, the goals are nothing earth-shattering, but they were huge for me when I was going through breast cancer. They kept me going so I wouldn't fall into the depression of cancer that was continuously lurking nearby.
The bigger goals. I set some bigger goals which included printing out my three pages of doctor appointments that were a constant over 12 weeks, and every time I finished a chemo treatment or had an appointment, I crossed it off that massive list and it felt amazing to see those appointments get crossed off one after the other. I kept a calendar with the end of treatment circled. That was a goal I obviously couldn't wait to hit. My biggest goal was the one-year anniversary circled on that calendar.
As my goal of hitting my one-year cancerversary came and went, I needed to keep the goals coming. Cancer survivorship was (and still is) very hard for me. I have massive fears of recurrence, and I struggle tremendously with anxiety about cancer, even this far out. So, I have goals each day of not letting the cancer fears beat me. I fought way too hard for this life to sit and worry about cancer every day. It sounds easy, but that has to be a daily goal for me.
Long-term goals. I have set longer-term goals as well. I planned a few trips over the years I wanted to take. I moved back to my home state after living away for so many years. Those are the biggest goals and don't happen overnight, but they need to be set.
Setting goals kept me going through cancer treatment and keep me going through survivorship. I am a big fan of goals and planning. For me, it keeps me focused and on track. With the constant fear and anxiety I face through all this, it helps me to have the goals. Do whatever works best for you. Set a few short-term goals. Set a few long-term goals. Do both, but from one survivor to the next, don't skip setting goals completely. It will make the journey all the more difficult without any sort of plan or finish line.