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 diagnosis of cancer is completely overwhelming and something most of us are not prepared for. It may be easy to think about giving up before treatment starts. Instead, here are five things that helped me push through.
You have heard the words "you have cancer." So, now what do you do?
I feel like I should immediately pause and give you a moment. There is nothing anyone can say to you that will make this easy to digest. After a time, you do find your path and manage to put together a strategy that works for you. It might seem impossible and the strategy of "Hey, I give up," is probably lingering at the forefront of your mind. I have been there too.
Let me just say that immediately after my diagnosis of breast cancer eight years ago when I was 32 years old, I wanted to give in and throw in the towel. The three-page printout of doctor appointments was overwhelming enough. Then, of course, there were the surgery decisions: keep my breast and do a lumpectomy, remove one breast or remove both? Oh sure, that's easy to work through. Don't all women have to make these decisions on a regular basis? Then there was the hair loss…you know that conversation, right? You sit in the room and the doctor tells you about this chemo and that chemo and then how many treatments and when you will lose your hair and on and on and on. It becomes just too much.
So, what do you do? If you are like me, you may want to just say forget it and give up before you start. If you have those thoughts, don't sweat it. You are not the only one. It's the easy answer; the logical answer. I felt so defeated. How was I ever going to make it through? And let's not forget that other emotion you have to be feeling. I call it fear. No one is prepared for cancer and no one knows how to tackle it. Here are a few steps I took to make my newly diagnosed self look less like a deer in headlights and more like the fighter I knew was hiding somewhere deep inside.
1. Get organized - I found a super cute notebook/journal that I could divide up into sections for all the information I received. I had a section for doctor's notes, treatment updates, calendar of appointments and a section for journaling. I would consider this section the place where I aired my grievances on cancer.
2. Keep your plans - Cancer changes your life but it doesn't have to change everything! Keep whatever plans you can. If you have social events scheduled, keep them whenever and wherever you can. Try to continue on with your life as best as possible. You will be happy to have the fun things still scheduled in your life!
3. Let people help - just let them. That's all I can say. People will want to support you. Let them in where and when it feels right. If it doesn't, kindly decline but think it through. The people that come forward are the ones that love and care for you. Embrace it!
4. Stay calm - perhaps you just laughed out loud at that. Totally fair. How can you stay calm in the face of cancer? Great question. Eight years later and I still wonder sometimes. However, I can tell you that freaking out and panicking doesn't work. Tends to give the fear all the energy it needs to keep harassing you. I learned this one straight from experience.
5. Take care of yourself - All I can say here is do what feels the best for you in the moment you are in. You are on a very tough path right now. It will be hard to stay on it. Frustrations will mount up and fears will grow. Let this take its course. Take breaks where needed, do things for yourself when you can. Rest and recover.
It may seem impossible now, but you will find your path. Give yourself a break and give this journey time. It's a process. You will get through it the way it was meant to be for you. Oh and, avoid doing the comparison game. You are not the other people you know who are going through cancer or have gone through it. Their journey is not your journey. You are building yours now, one step at a time.