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.
Would would happen if I turned my back to the past and faced forward? It is time to stop wishing I could go back to my pre-cancer life. It's time to face forward.
I have gotten quite good at living in the past. Ever since my breast cancer diagnosis eight years ago, I have made cancer my constant companion. Sure, the diagnosis was a long time ago. Sure, the doctors have told me all my treatment is done and I can go on with my life. The problem is I want the life I left behind. When everyone tells me that I should go on with my life, I don't know what that means. To me, my life is back a little over eight years ago, before I was told I had cancer. That's the life I want to go on with. I want to pick it up and be just like I was.
This whole thought process is where the "new normal" after cancer is supposed to take the spot light. It's supposed to guide us forward and show us how to get on with our changed lives. The problem for me is that I couldn't accept it. I didn't like the new normal. I didn't like what it stood for. I am very goal-oriented. When I was diagnosed, I put together a plan with my medical team of everything that had to be done and the timing for all the treatment. I marked off the days until my goal would become a reality. That day was my last day of chemo treatment. My surgeries were done. My chemo was done. That was the day I could run back to my pre-cancer self, give her a big hug and feel the elation of being reunited.
I am still waiting for that moment, though it never came. All these years later, I have come to terms with the fact that it probably never will. I miss that old me. I miss her way more than I ever could have anticipated. People want and try to change all the time. They try to erase their pasts and move forward whether they have been affected by cancer or not. So, why can't I? I don't know. I think it is because I was happy in my pre-cancer life. I liked my life and I liked where it was headed. Also, like everyone affected by cancer, I got absolutely no choice in the matter. The rug was ripped from under me and everything changed in blink of an eye. I never got to say good bye and thank that old me for everything. During the six months of my cancer treatment process, I never mourned my life. I didn't think I had to. I figured I would see her shortly, pick up the pieces and go right back to the way I was the day before I found that lump.
So, how do I fix this problem of being stuck in the past? I've contemplated for years how to get myself to let go of that former me. I've walked with my back to the future. I have refused to look and see what is ahead of me, of what I could be. I've allowed cancer and the fear it brings to tag along with me for years. I always apologized for it and for myself. I've constantly used cancer as my crutch to not have to move forward and stare my fears in the face. I am so tired of it. It's time to change. It's time to turn my back on the past. Really, what I mean is it is time to turn forward and face the future. My old self is gone. There is nothing anyone can do to change that. However, what is the point of living if you can't make plans for the future or just enjoy where you are at today? I have to say that although I have missed my old self and never mourned her, I am kind of liking who I am becoming in this post cancer life. The best part is, I am starting to get to know her and see what she is all about now that I have put my back to the past and started to face forward.