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 can bring many fears and uncertainties to the forefront, but it can also bring friendships with people we would never have met had we not gotten cancer at all.
This past week weekend, I went to a celebration for young adult breast cancer survivors in my area. The party was thrown by an organization that brought us all together for support. The majority of us had been diagnosed with breast cancer prior to our 40th birthdays, one of the many similarities we all shared. Usually, we meet a newcomer into the group by sitting in a circle once a month discussing our cancer diagnosis, treatment decisions and fears of living with cancer. When we would come together, we would feel safe in that circle discussing things with somewhat strangers that we would not dare bring up with the closest people we knew. If you take a step back, it's a bit odd. As humans, we tend not to talk about personal things to complete strangers we just meet, but in the cancer world, it seems natural.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 years old, I wanted to talk about it. However, I only wanted to talk about it with others who had been through it or were going through it. Since none of my friends were experiencing cancer, I figured I was going to have to be willing to open up to complete strangers if I was going to talk about my cancer experience in the open. I was never much of a talker or outspoken before cancer. I wasn't shy, but I just let others talk, so basically, I wouldn't have to spill the beans on me, if you will. So, it surprised even myself when I was so eager to talk about my cancer experience with strangers. For whatever reason, it just made sense.
Fast forward a few years later and I am still friends with so many of those others I met at the beginning of my journey. We stay connected and even though the majority of us don't meet up to sit in that circle anymore, we still chat and bounce our fears off of each other to get in control of our cancer thoughts. It is a relief just to have that connection with cancer friends and know I am not the only one.
At the cancer survivors party this weekend, I couldn't help but take a step back and survey the room. There were newly diagnosed women who had the look of fear in their eyes that I know from my own experience. There were women with no hair, showing off their bald heads with the pride of someone knee-deep in cancer treatment not afraid to show who they are. I love that part and admire those women. And there were the long-term survivors with long hair and the knowledgeable look in their eyes of the “been there, done that” group of women.
As I watched these women, some I had just met and some I had known for years, I thought about that fact the most of us would never had met had we not had cancer. We would never have shared stories if we had not joined that circle of trust to hear and be heard. Would any of us really be friends if we didn't have cancer? Maybe, maybe not. I often wonder that.
Aside from cancer, I don't have a lot in common with these women, but I find them to be some of my closet friends. I've said it many times, but I hate giving cancer credit for anything. It is not good for anything, and causes so much pain and suffering, so saying something positive about it is just ridiculous. However, cancer is what brought all of us together to celebrate ourselves this past weekend. It brought many of us together prior to this celebration and maybe it is the reason we are all friends. I do know it is one of the many reasons I stay somewhat sane as I continue my journey in cancer survivorship. Cancer happened, and I can't change that. However, meeting these amazing survivors and celebrating our lives, our friendship and survivorship is definitely something to be grateful for. Cancer friends have become my rocks and my go-to group when I am scared and feel that cancer just might get the best of me.