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 not the actual hand we are dealt when live throws us a curve. It's how we play it.
People love to talk about playing the best hand with the cards they are dealt. It's certainly easy to say those words but playing the hand can be a lot tougher than we think. Let's take the hand that includes a cancer diagnosis. It's not like you were dealt a hand with no aces and your highest card is the 4 of hearts. The cancer hand is one that looks like it has no promise at all. Plus, it's like being dealt the joker. You are wondering who left this card in and how could you be the one that actually received it? In a card game, you can fold and move on with your life. When life gets the bad hand, you can't just fold and forget it.
Some people will want to fold the hand immediately when life throws the curve ball. It is definitely easier to run under the covers and hope it all just goes away. However, let's face it, that NEVER works. The most important rule when you get the bad hand is do NOT run. It makes it worse. Take a deep breath, face the cards and start to figure out how you can beat it. Everything takes strategy, a little time, some pain and a drive to keep going.
I got the bad hand dealt to me when I was 32 years old and diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted nothing to do with it and was ready to give up almost instantly. Running seemed like a much better option then having a bilateral mastectomy, losing my hair, potentially dying from cancer and having to give up everything I knew as part of my normal life. It might be a bit cliché but I had to get my mind out of the woes me thought process or I had no chance to beat cancer. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I realized if I was going to win, it was how I played the cards. I could run or I could fight.
I fought. The physical changes left by cancer were painful, hard to look at and just plain uncomfortable. That was the easy part for me. The real challenge was in the mental aspect of cancer. I had no idea how to figure this out. I had terrible anxiety, fears like no other, and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. I had no recollection of my first-year post cancer. That's not playing the hand by any means. That's running! I pretended to have a great attitude and to the outside world, I fooled them all. Inside I was terrified. I was quickly losing the battle against cancer's evil mental torture. I was fearful 24/7 that my cancer was back. I constantly checked my body for lumps. I woke up worried and went to sleep filled with anxiety. Cancer was every other thought in my head. That is no way to live a life.
I looked at my cards and thought that I will lose this only hand dealt to me if I don't figure out what to do with it. So, I made some moves. I dropped the cards that had no value: the worry, the fear, the anxiety and the self-doubt. I picked up new ones that include talking to a professional, getting a bit more educated on cancer itself, focusing on things I loved to do as opposed to spending my day obsessed with cancer. I started exercising and eating better. Those are key to living a healthy life. Worrying and freaking out about cancer never makes the list of best practices to keep yourself happy.
The cards I carry now are better for sure. I learned how to play the hand. I learned how to make changes that, although, never get rid of the fact that I had cancer, do allow me to live my life. I enjoy it now and I accept what has happened. Remember, it is not about the hand. It's how we play it.