The Thrivers: Dana and Shelley Stewart
Our summer issue's thrivers are the mother-daughter duo of Shelley and Dana Stewart, breast and uterine cancer survivors.

As told to Britt Julious

You’ve got to grasp that fear, do everything you’re told to do, and believe that your outcome is going to be good.

DANA: I was 32 when I was diagnosed. I was living in Milwaukee, single, really career-focused. And then I found a lump, really by accident. Long story short, we went through a mammogram, ultrasound, and none of it screamed cancer. I even had a biopsy. It wasn’t until they removed [the lump] that they found the cancer. It was the biggest shock of my life.

Just going through the treatment, that was the easy part. I’m the kind of person where I move fast. I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and four rounds of chemo and implants down the road. Where I really struggled was when the active treatment was done and everybody set me free.

I was in a really dark place because I was trying to pretend it never happened. Three or four years after my diagnosis, I hit rock bottom. I would self-exam my body all the time, looking for lumps and bumps and cancer. I kind of went crazy in terms of never saying no to anything because I felt like I had this bucket list and didn’t think I would live past five years.

I found Young Survival Coalition, which is an organization I still volunteer with. I found a lot of really great ladies my age that faced the same diagnosis. I got some therapy, which has helped.

SHELLEY: Sometimes I think you don’t realize all the different things you’ve done to get through this and to help other people. You’ve been like a little flower. You’ve kind of blossomed over the years.

DANA: Thanks.

SHELLEY: I got diagnosed 10 years after her. I was a 70-year-old woman diagnosed with uterine cancer that’s localized and treatable. You’re in the hospital for 24 hours and the cancer is gone. No radiation, no chemo, no nothing. I’m not trying to trivialize it […] but it was like an everyday occurrence. It was nothing like the overwhelming 180 change to lifestyle Dana experienced.

When I go back to the doctor every three months, there’s just a little twinge of nervousness. It did not rock my world. It makes sense for a 70-year-old woman to have uterine cancer. It didn’t make sense for a 32 year old to get breast cancer. I learned from her how to accept it and how to move forward, because she did a wonderful job.

I have nothing that lingers with me but better understanding. Sometimes I wanted to go up to her and shake her and say, ‘Get over it. You’re a survivor.’ But cancer changed me in that respect. That was a turning point for us.


Organizations We Support

10 Years of Twist Out

Twist Out Cancer is celebrating a decade of supporting the cancer community, and founder Jenna Benn Shersher says the organization’s reach is far from slowing down.

Read More »

Sick with Debt

After costly treatments and surgeries that aid in treating cancer, there is often one worry plaguing the mind of the average survivor—how to pay for it all.

Read More »

Competing for a Cause

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year campaign has begun! For the next ten weeks, Vogelzang Law and Cancer Wellness’ nominees will be working hard at fundraising in honor of local blood cancer survivors.

Read More »
(Y)our Stories

The Brightened & Enlightened Series Presents: FORCE

Cancer Wellness is proud to present the first installment of our new series in partnership with Bright Pink. FORCE is the first (and largest) nonprofit focused on providing education and resources to the hereditary cancer community, while championing efforts to widen access to genetic testing, cancer screenings and lifesaving treatments and procedures — regardless of income or insurance status.

Read More »
(Y)our Stories

#FighterFriday: Alexis Mencos

Alexis Mencos had all the symptoms of pregnancy—then it turned out to actually be ovarian cancer. Freshly 21 and in the middle of getting her degree, Mencos was determined that her diagnosis wouldn’t be a full-stop in her life, but a pause.

Read More »