“We do cancer well” Robyn Stewart says softly. It’s a poignant and well earned statement: Robyn is a three time cancer survivor and in the same breath classifies herself a warrior since 2006. It was in 2006 that Robyn received her first diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 33. At the time, she knew no one else who was diagnosed and had no family history, but did suffer from Cowden’s Syndrome, which can increase one’s chances of developing cancer. She approached treatment very matter-of-fact. After all, she had two little girls at home and wanted to return to normal life as soon as possible. She had treatment and radiation and relied on others to help with the children so she could address her own health. The support from family and friends is where she drew her strength and Robyn notes that while cancer survivors often joke they’ll run marathons and ‘grab life by the horns’ once treatment is complete, she craved nothing more than her normal boring life with her husband and children.
She got just that for many years before the breast cancer returned in 2015. This time, with older girls and a more serious diagnosis, the situation held more weight. She began treatment in 2016, which included a mastectomy, chemo and radiation. Second time around, the side effects were difficult to deal with. The loss of her hair, weight gain from the medications and more made it challenging to maintain a positive body image, but with two impressionable girls in her household, she remained diligent in keeping life normal. This normalcy was achieved because of the kindness of strangers. Her town stepped up to drive her girls to activities, maintain a meal train, and ensure the children still had sleepovers and birthday parties. She laughs that indeed, both girls felt minimal change, further reinforcing her notion that the Stewart’s truly handle cancer, at times, too well. At a time when she felt most vulnerable, it was the random acts of kindness that kept her going, like when, shortly after her second diagnosis, she began venting to a total stranger on the phone (“sometimes its easier to talk to a stranger”) and a day later that woman called back revealing she was an eight year survivor herself. Robyn notes that while people often think support needs to be big in nature, it’s those small gestures that hold so much power.
Sadly, Robyn’s cancer journey would not be over. On Christmas Eve in 2018, she received a call from the doctor that she had blood cancer, to which she replied, “you must be mistaken. Did you mean breast cancer?” Alas, she would face another fight ahead of her. By now though, she had solid support systems in place, from family and friends to organizations of support, like the Miss Pink Organization, Joseph Andruzzi Foundation and Family Reach. Most affectionately, she praises her husband’s support through the nearly 14 years of cancer she has faced. It’s why she wanted to make sure that after her third diagnosis, he as the caretaker, had support as well. She turned to Sailing Heals, which takes the patient and caretaker on sails around New England. This organization gave her increased peace knowing her husband was acknowledged and thanked for how he has had to step up during her health journey.
Indeed, while her first diagnosis was fought more privately, she finds beacons of support, both formal and informal, are the key to moving through grief, pain, anger and sadness healthily. Those who can listen and understand, but not dwell are essential to her continued mental wellness. Robyn notes that everyone’s cancer journey is unique and it can be easy to fall victim to the negative energy, but staying positive directly impacts her mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Her consistent mantra is a great reminder: you cannot control every situation, but you can control how you react.