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.
When you are lost you ask, "Where am I?" When you go through cancer, it is hard to find where you are. In the map of life, why not find yourself where you are in this very moment? You are here.
When we are lost, the first and obvious question is, “Where am I?” When we need to find where we are at the mall, we look for the dot on the map saying, "YOU ARE HERE." We use the little arrow on the map app on our phone to signal where we are at that moment. So, why don't we utilize this same thought process as we go through cancer or any trauma for that matter? Speaking even more generally than that, why don't we use that mentality in everyday life?
When I was going through my cancer treatment, I wanted to be anywhere and everywhere else. I wanted to run back to my past and hide under that stable rock. I wanted to take a peek into my future and find out if I was going to be alive in the next month, year or 10 even ten years later. I surely didn't want to be in that moment of making treatment decisions and wondering how I was going to look bald once my first chemo treatment was injected into that port I didn't even have yet.
I briefly forced myself to live in the "YOU ARE HERE" moments of time during my active treatment for breast cancer. I really didn't have much time to look at the past and I was too tired from chemo to worry about what tomorrow would bring, so I was just kind of cruising along in the moments as they passed.
Where I took a wrong turn and got lost on the map of life was when I was done with my active treatment. I lost complete sight of everything. I felt like I was in the deepest part of the ocean where no light creeps in and I had lost my way to the surface. You are here? I would have laughed in the face of anyone asked me where I thought that was. I literally had no clue.
I had plenty of "I was here" moments. That's where I spent a substantial time fighting alongside the words “new normal.” I hated my new normal. I wanted nothing to do with it. I lived a lot of time on that place on the map as the dot that states "I was here." I tried everything to get back to my pre-cancer life. I pretended living through a cancer diagnosis was easy. I acted like cancer didn't affect me at all and that I was the exact same person I was six months earlier, when I didn't know women under 40 could even get breast cancer. It was a nice place to be.
When that thought process got me nowhere, I moved to the next map dot that doesn't even exist yet. I call it "you will be here." Good luck finding that one, unless you are lucky enough to be a fortune teller. I am not one. This place on the map can fill your imagination like you would not believe. I saw myself not living to the age of 40, since my diagnosis came at the age of 32. I saw the cancer returning before I finished treatment. I saw myself as always being a patient with cancer and never having the chance to live again. This map dot is not a fun place.
After a lot of circling this huge map of life, I find myself lost again. Where am I supposed to be and how do I get there? I've made a lot of progress over the years post-cancer. I finally feel like I am in a place where I can look at my past and not wish I was there all the time. I can look at the future and see more than just cancer. If I look at the map of my life and where I am standing, I find myself close to that point in time where I can just be and say to myself: “YOU ARE HERE.”