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.
The cancer journey can take you on a jagged road with too many twists and turns. It doesn't always have to be an emotional rollercoaster if you know how to walk it.
I could probably sum up this path, the directions it veers and the twists it throws at me constantly, with one word: Cancer. I probably don't even need to write a narrative explaining what I mean. Cancer; the word about sums it all up, I think. Alright, say I wanted to add a little color to it, a little definition, a little bit more of a description into what I mean. Here goes.
Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I understood what it was and what it meant. However, what I didn't know is what it was like to walk that road. I thought when people got a cancer diagnosis, they went through treatments, surgeries, lost their hair to chemo and then went back to their lives when they started looking "normal" again. I also knew that other people who were diagnosed were not as lucky. You might be thinking I am pointing out the obvious. I know this. However, isn't this way of thinking that has been presented to us by some of our friends, family and co-workers? Who hasn't come across this in a conversation: "but you look so good and your hair has grown back." We can shrug it off or become irate or find ourselves somewhere in the middle. It's just the way it is seen by the outsiders looking into the cancer world.
In reality, cancer takes us on a much more wild and crazy path. I started on a very straight, clear path before cancer. I had no health issues. I found a lump in my breast but didn't think much of it. The biopsy showed no cancer so my path stayed nice and straight, moving me forward. The first time my path veered off course was when the lump was removed. Turns out it was cancer, after all. It felt as if my path abruptly fell off a cliff. When I managed to find my way, it was somewhat straight and forward again as I had a clear path of treatment and surgeries. This is where the pre-cancer-me got confused with the cancer survivor. I thought I would feel like a million bucks when I finished my treatment. I thought I would hop back on my straight and forward journey of my life and pick up EXACTLY where I left off. That was nowhere close to what actually happened.
I was so lost after treatment; I thought I was walking in circles. All I did was go back to the same questions over and over and over in my head: Will I make it a year? Will I die? Will the cancer come back? That's all I heard. No one could answer. People got tired of me asking. I couldn't function and the cycle continued. The good news, as many people pointed out to me (insert eye roll) was that I looked great and my hair had grown back. I was grateful for the casual observers…yes, I am being sarcastic.
Time went on and this path I walked continued. I felt emotionally stable one day and erratic the next. I thought I would live to 100 and then think I had cancer throughout my body. It literally felt like I was walking a road with so many sudden twists and turns, you just want to sit in the middle of it and say “I QUIT!!” Being a cancer survivor was (and still is) so much more difficult than I anticipated. I don't think anyone tells you that part. It's like a secret society that no one wants to be a part of.
t took a long time, and some great therapy to be able to stand up and actively face that jagged road I walk, but I do it. I do it every day. I actually enjoy it now. I know how to fight those emotions that jump out at me. I may not know exactly when the fears will strike but I can battle them now. My jagged road has a few road signs now, you know the kind. They are the signs that have curvy lines and say the road is about to swerve left or right. I can prepare a little better. I now know what to expect.