S.T.A.R.S. Arizona

Dragonflies and Angels

Dana Stewart
Chicago, IL
Breast Cancer, 7 year Survivor
Founder Dragonfly Angel Society

1. What was the darkest moment in your cancer journey?
Finishing active treatment was not all that I expected it to be. In fact, it was a whole lot worse for me than hearing the words “you have cancer.”

I wish I could say I knew exactly why this was. I think I expected to finish chemotherapy, have all my surgeries completed and just be so happy to be supposedly done with cancer that I would want to celebrate.

There is so much discussed with you at the beginning of your cancer journey – what to expect with chemo, surgeries, etc. – but nothing for the aftermath. No one tells you how to survive life after cancer.

2. If you could go back and talk to your pre-cancer self, what would you say?
I have mixed feelings about what I would tell myself before my cancer journey began. I didn’t think I was all that naïve, but as it turns out, I was a bit more than I gave myself credit for. I really didn’t think anything bad would ever happen to me, most of all cancer. I really didn’t expect it at all. So, the cancer diagnosis became the ultimate shock of my life and I was flat out not prepared.

I think would tell my pre-cancer self to live life and try not to stress too much, but keep in mind, that things can happen. I am a planner. I like to plan everything. Cancer was never planned for, as anyone would probably say. However, I think if I was a little more aware that life doesn’t follow the plan you want down to the second, it’s okay. Be ready and know you can handle whatever is thrown your way.

3. How has cancer changed you?
Oh the words “new normal” – how I dislike them. I just didn’t understand what they meant. I vowed that cancer would never change me and I would always be the same. Wow, did I ever learn a lesson. Cancer sure does change a person!

Physically I see the changes, but mentally I think I am almost a completely different person. I decided to not pursue things that just didn’t suit me after cancer. I moved across state lines and changed career paths. I realized how much I love to write and share my thoughts. I do what works for me now as opposed to doing things that I think other people would think is best.

4. What motivated you to pursue your 2nd Act?
This ties back to my darkest moment. Once I finished my last chemo treatment and I was technically done with everything the doctors said I had to do, I literally crashed and burned. The emotional weight of what happened to me was so overwhelming and I just couldn’t get a handle on it.

I searched and searched, but couldn’t find anything that directed me how to live life after cancer. I had the big looming questions in front of me of: What do I do now? I do I get on with my life? So, I decided to create the survivorship world to my liking – The Dragonfly Angel Society. It’s the place where I collect resources (cancer and non-cancer related) that focus on life after cancer.

There are websites, books, magazines, writings – anything that can help anyone find their survivorship path. I figured that even if it only helped me navigate survivorship, then it would be a success! I was inspired by my own story, but also by two signs that came to me during my journey.

The first was a dragonfly that graced me with its presence as I was going through treatment. It flew over my balcony, and repeatedly fluttered against my door as if trying to come in. I have never seen a dragonfly this close or act this way before. I now know that the dragonfly is the symbol of wisdom, change, and perhaps, the sign to live differently. This was a huge wake up call for me. It was what I needed to see to tell me it’s time to move forward, move on and accept the change that cancer has thrown into my life.

The second symbol was an angel. In this case, I was inspired by my aunt. She always believed angels would look out for us. She used to say they were nearby and available if we needed them. She is no longer with us, but I know she is my angel and I love knowing she is close.

When I thought about these two symbols, I realized I was given what I needed to pursue my 2nd act and start my website through which I could share what I learned with others.

5. What has been your brightest moment in your 2nd Act?
Sharing my writing has been my favorite part of this journey. I enjoy putting my thoughts on paper and seeing that there are people out there who will say to me,“YES! I can relate to what you said. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words!” It’s during moments like these when I realize I am not alone.

6. Where do you see yourself going from here?
I believe I will stay on this path of constantly developing and building a life, learning how to live as a cancer survivor. I plan to keep building on the ideas and resources I share on my website. I’d like to put my words into actual print some day and maybe write a book or something along those lines. I love the idea of using writing to heal … a concept I didn’t know much about until after my diagnosis. I look forward to continuing to adding emotions and thoughts to my pens and papers.

7.What’s your favorite quote and how does it fit into your 2nd Act?
My favorite quote is from the movie The Shawshank Redemption. I think it speaks volumes and I constantly use it for motivation, especially when I get down about whatever is happening in my life. It’s spoken near the end of the film: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

It’s so true! I always repeat it to get myself out of a rut. To me, it says yes, cancer happened, but that doesn’t mean your life ended. Go on and live, and enjoy this life you fought so hard to keep. Otherwise, you might as well prepare to die; words that can’t be argued with!

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