I entered this intriguing, sometimes impossible, often challenging, but mostly gratifying world by way of necessity.  This isn’t a voluntary position.  But when the call comes, and you are drafted, you willingly accept.

There was no family history.  She was in excellent health.  But out of the blue comes the thunderbolt.  My firstborn daughter, Dana, 32 years young, calls and says she found a lump.  Her scheduled physical is only three months away, but right now we’re headed to Paris for a mother-daughter adventure.  No worries—we’ll have it checked out at the doctor’s appointment.

Sure enough, the doctor feels the lump. No great concern, but this is a diligent and thorough physician.  Wanting to be sure, he sends Dana for further testing.  And much to EVERYONE’s surprise, there IS something there!!  A quick visit to the surgeon.  Again, we’re not too worried.  A needle biopsy that we are pretty sure will just be routine.  That’s where the rug gets pulled out from beneath us.  They need to perform a lumpectomy.  Once again, we’re not too worried.

Dana will never again believe the words, “probably nothing, given your history”…but that’s what happens when you’re dealt the blow, the dreaded cancer diagnosis.  That girl put her feet on the cancer recovery journey trail and never looked back.  Given the choice of lumpectomy and radiation or prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction she chose the latter (she never was one to do things halfway!).  Four doses of prophylactic chemo followed.  And, of course, her dad and I were with her all the way.

Thus my introduction to the world of caregiver.  That was my first title.  Come to find out that some organizations call me a co-survivor.  But now I am called Care Partner.  Thank you, Patient Power.  Next to being called Mom, Care Partner is my favorite title yet.

We embarked upon this terrifying journey as a well-oiled machine.  Dana the Patient, Mom the Care Partner, Dad and brother Douglas, a bevy of incredible family and friends-like-family members pushing and carrying us every step of the way.  But we are winging it.  We have absolutely no idea what we are doing.  And somehow we are succeeding.  Necessity is truly the mother of invention!  Ultimately each step of success, no matter how small, builds upon itself, and you find yourself coming through the other side of darkness into the proverbial light!

Dana blogs her journey.  Suddenly the patient/survivor has turned into our inspiration.  Her humor and insight become the building blocks of the foundation of our strength and unwavering ability to traverse this path with her.  As the Care Partner, I am still operating in a blur of activity and emotion but prevailing nonetheless.

Ultimately, Dana finally found the treasured few organizations that cater to young women diagnosed with breast cancer.  We’re getting on with life (the new normal, a term she hates but has come to recognize as a true status), and I, the main care partner, am still at a loss, despite  being what appears on the surface as successful.  It’s akin to becoming a mom for the first time.  There is no playbook, no manual.  But somehow, when you see your daughter’s strength and ability to travel this difficult road with great success, you figure you can do it too.

Finally, the evolution of Dragonfly Angel Society:  a web-based resource center for cancer survivors AND care partners.  Our motto?  “I’m done with treatment…now what?” (for survivors).  “She’s done with treatment…now what?” (for care partners). 

FYI, dragonflies are mystical symbols of new beginnings, strength and hope.  Dana received a divine sign at the beginning of her journey: a large dragonfly was thumping itself against her balcony door as if desperately trying to get her attention.  She was amazed, enthralled, enchanted.  Angels are a long-heralded sign of protection and love, and a treasured symbol held close to the heart of Dana’s dear aunt and namesake, Anne.  Thus the birth of Dragonfly Angel Society (DAS, Dana Anne Stewart).  As a true believer of serendipity, this made perfect sense to me!

And now I feel blessed.  Funny to say that about having a daughter with cancer.  But after my rude awakening to a world that I was long protected from in my almost perfect life, I find the changes exhilarating, mind boggling and gratifying.  I know that sounds a bit odd.  But if you think about it for a moment, you can see what I mean.  I look at life through the eyes of a care partner now.  My blessings are immeasurable.  The tiny joys of everyday life have become enormous and treasured.  The changes to the way my family goes through day-to-day living are incredible.  I say it all the time.  I am the luckiest woman alive:  Wife, Mom, Care Partner. 

Honored to Be a Care Partner,

Shelley Stewart

Co-creator of Dragonfly Angel Society

 

Dana is an ER+ breast cancer survivor.  For more information on this type of breast cancer, click here.

For information on inflammatory breast cancer, click here.

For information on BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer, click here.

To learn more about breast cancer in general, visit our Breast Cancer Community Page

To connect with other care partners, visit our Care Partner Community Page.