Following Queen
Introducing our new series on a young woman creating a sense of urgency
By Mary Lou Sheffield

 

PHOTO BY DAVID MICHAEL HOWARTH

On the day before her 36th birthday, Queen Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now only 5 months into her treatment, Queen is on a mission to spread the word about something she has learned is essential: Creating a sense of urgency. The mother of 2 young girls, ages 2 and 7, has started to live her life in a way that she never did before – by doing things that make her happy, things she always wanted to do but never got around to. We’ll be following Queen as she continues her cancer treatment and as she takes action to bring joy into her life. She will tell you she has learned a lot and changed a lot, all for the better. She’ll also tell you that you can do the same. And you should. Right now. Join us as we get to know Queen.

Q: Can you tell us about your cancer diagnosis?

Last October, I was in a celebratory mood. I’m an attorney with my own practice, and I had just moved into a new office in Cherry Hill. Plus, my birthday is in October. But my right arm had been bumping up against the outer part of my right breast, and something just didn’t feel right. I went for a mammogram and ultrasound, and I could tell something was wrong. I started to cry on the table. The radiologist said I needed a biopsy. He said, “Don’t give up on yourself.”

Everything happened quickly. I had the biopsy done, and on the day before my 36th birthday, we got the actual diagnosis, which was breast cancer on the right side, and there were a few lymph nodes that were suspicious. We decided that a double mastectomy, full right lymph node dissection was best for me. They pulled out 18 of the lymph nodes, and 13 were cancerous. That put me at stage 3. So I have stage 3 breast cancer.

Q: And where are you now with treatment?

I started chemo on December 28. So I’m almost finished with a 5-month chemo journey. After chemo, I’ll start radiation – 5 days a week for a month and a half.

Q: So when you get that diagnosis, what are you thinking?

That I’m going to die and leave my girls. I couldn’t get past that thought. I think that’s why the radiologist said don’t give up on yourself, because I kept saying, “I have 2 daughters. I have 2 daughters.” I just kept thinking, am I gonna die?

Q: How do you get past that?

That’s a good question. A week after my surgery, I watched my daughter perform in “The Nutcracker.” I was sitting in the audience, drains and all. Then we had Christmas, and right after, I started chemo. The holidays really helped me. It was really hard when I started chemo, but I just kept thinking I have to get past this. I kept thinking about the springtime, because chemo would be over. Then I started to do things I used to love to do, like singing. I started writing jokes. I started to do things to remind myself that there’s much more going on in the world than what’s going on in my life. I stopped thinking I was going to die. The more I started to put my energy into things that were making me happy, the less I thought about dying.

Q: Is it hard to keep up that positive mindset?

I’ve been able to stay out of that negative state of mind – like, really stay out of it. I’m doing things I like to do. I take my daughter to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, because she loves art. My husband and I are making time for ourselves. I’m so focused on not missing the moment that I really just don’t think about it anymore. It’s like, I know I could die. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is what I’m doing right now.

Q: If you could talk to yourself 3 years ago, could you impress that philosophy upon your old self?

That is hard. We’re so programmed to deal with what’s happening right now – work, the kids – and we ignore us. We ignore relationships and they fall apart. We ignore our health. It’s very hard to talk to someone about this and for them to snap into action. However, I’ve been talking to people about this everywhere I go. I talk about creating a sense of urgency, because that’s what I’ve been doing.

Q: How have you been doing that?

It started with a video. It was really my epiphany video. I’m in the car, and I’m crying. I was in self-reflection. I just started thinking, what am I doing? Why am I here? And I decided I would do things for me now, period. So since that day, I’ve signed up at a comedy club for their 6-week, 3-hours-a-week course. Because I’m funny, and I want to deliver jokes. I’m also working with a music producer to write and record a song. I’m thinking about movie ideas I’ve had in the past and trying to write those ideas into an actual script. I want to make a documentary about creating a sense of urgency. I want to get the story out, so I’m not wasting my cancer.

Q: What does that mean – not wasting your cancer?

I’m trying to live my life in a way where it is not defined by what I think I should be doing. When I gave up my practice and completely dialed down, the amount of stress that came off my neck was amazing, and I didn’t even know it was there. It’s like now cancer has lifted a screen to say: Queen, be you now. You have support. No one’s going to judge you for singing on Instagram. So just do what you want to do.

Q: How has the diagnosis affected your marriage?

My husband and I have been together for a while. We married pretty young by today’s standards. We were both in our early 20s. We are opposites in many ways. We’ve always bickered a bit, but we work. We have such a strong partnership in the way we see our life going, so we just don’t give up on each other. When it comes to our intimacy and love, I mean, to be frank, I don’t have any breasts. We’re a young couple and a passionate couple. So we had to get around that, because we love each other. I want people who might be going through this, especially young people, to know you can find that passion again. Without going into all the details, we have found ways to do that.

Q: SJ Magazine is going to be following your story in print and online. Why do you want to start this project?

I think somebody needs to hear my story. People think about doing things all the time, and then they let it go. But they need to create a sense of urgency. A cancer diagnosis could happen to anyone, at any time. If they follow my story, I hope they’ll say, “Ok, maybe this really is my time to do something.”

May 2022
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