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Where Is The Instruction Manual For Life After Cancer?

November 25th, 2015 |

by Dragonflyangel | Survivor: Breast Cancer    Connect


During cancer, you get books and pamphlets that have information on treatments, doctor appointments, etc. But then there is the life to go back to when you are done. What now?

Those nagging words - "You have cancer" - can really feel like a sucker punch to the gut. They are unwelcome, unnecessary, and just flat out mean. I heard those words when I was 32 years old when I was told I had breast cancer. I remember I cried about three tears...okay, maybe four tears, put my boxing gloves on, and never looked back. I cried only one other time and that was when I was told I was going to lose my hair. I knew that was a given, but come on! Cancer had taken everything from me - my breasts, my peace of mind, and my calm. It was going to take my hair too? That was my last straw. However, I kept the boxing gloves on and moved forward, because what choice did I have?

I finished my six months of treatment and although it was rough, tiring, scary and overwhelming, I made it through. I was now a cancer survivor. Yippee! But that feeling of joy never hit me like I thought it would. This was the day I would run out of the office with my hands up, cheering and happy. Instead, I walked out more terrified than I was the day I was told those three dreaded words. What was wrong with me? I later came to find that nothing was wrong with me. The "now what?" side of cancer had just hit me and I didn't know what to do. I did the only thing that came to mind - I cried.

Where was the manual for life after cancer? Where was the pamphlet on the "what now"? How come no one told me about this world? I went from seeing doctors every week to now every three months? I had chemo running through me for four months and now there is nothing. I got a certificate for completing chemo, a pin, and I was sent off on my merry way.

About a month later, the emotions of everything all came crashing down. I felt like I had literally stared death in the face. That was obviously an emotion I was not prepared for. The survivor's guilt set in too. Why was I lucky to have survived? What do I do with my life now that I have a second chance? Everything became too overwhelming. I saw a therapist a couple of times to help with my emotions. It felt good to talk about it and realize the feelings were normal. The problem was I didn't want a "new normal."

It took a long time to find that "new normal" and officially accept it. Sometimes I still don't want to. I am over five years out now. When will cancer officially crash into a brick wall and stop tailing me? I walk fast, it speeds up. I run, it keeps pace. It hasn't caught me yet and I hope it never does. I look forward to the day where I turn around and I don't see it keeping up. I have been working hard at that and believe it will eventually happen. In the meantime, I keep working on my "new normal."

From one cancer survivor to the next, things truly do get better. It's harder for some than others, but you do move forward. Acceptance is the key. Mourning your old self is a fine way to start. Allow yourself that. I did not initially. I am in the process of accepting now and it is a good place to be. You don't have to forget, but you do need to move forward.


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Dana Stewart is a 5-year breast cancer survivor, diagnosed at the age of 32. After going through a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction as well as chemotherapy, Dana knew that she wanted to help other young adults going through what she had. She is an Illinois State Leader for Young Survival Coalition and started her own organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society – Cancer Survivorship. She focuses on survivorship and helping survivors deal with life after treatment ends. You can connect with Dana on IHC under the username Dragonflyangel .

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