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Dear Cancer, I am Sick of You

by Chelsey GomezSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaJune 13, 2024View more posts from Chelsey Gomez

Dear Cancer,

Here we go again, Cancer. To be honest, I am sick of talking about you. I am exhausted by my unwanted lifetime membership in the “Cancer Club.” Nearly six years into this, it feels like my whole life has been intertwined with your presence. Living in your shadow, they call me lucky because I’m still here. Most days this feels like a twisted sort of luck. I struggle to stop trying to survive and start remembering how to live.

Prior to my own diagnosis, I assumed like many that cancer is something that older people primarily cope with. The title of “young and healthy” was something that I wore like an invisible coat of arms. The truth is, nobody is safe from you, Cancer. You don’t hesitate to rip children away from parents, or parents away from children. In your eyes, everyone is a potential next victim. You thrive on empty phrases like, “everything happens for a reason.” It’s a convenient excuse for your assault, and it puts undue pressure on your survivors. We spend the rest of our lives trying to rationalize “why me.” We blame ourselves instead of you. We try to force meaning from this experience. It feels like if we aren’t using our illness as motivation to climb mountains or be better people, then why did we survive? We think about you every day. You don’t think about us. You just move on to the next person.

You steal lives day after day without hesitation. Last week, you took my friend Jordyn. She had her whole life ahead of her—a loving family, a bright future. You ruined that. You stole her infectious sense of humor and her kind heart. You reduced her down to a whisper, a painful empty place that won’t ever feel better. I know you don’t care. Tomorrow, and every day after, you’ll destroy more lives. Jordyn’s absence is a constant ache, a reminder of the lives you steal without a second thought.

This constant ache, this survivor’s guilt, is a weight we all carry in the cancer community. When you took Jordyn, I automatically wondered “why her and not me?” Survivor’s guilt is something that can’t be fully expressed in words. It feels like I’m carrying a backpack of bricks, and each death adds another to the weight.

It’s ironic because I know that my cancer friends wouldn’t want me to feel this way. They don’t expect me to accomplish magnificent things in a quest to honor them. I know they want nothing more than for me to be happy. Feeling happy after cancer feels impossible some days. It’s all a part of the mind games that you play, Cancer. You are a manipulator and an expert at gaslighting.

One of the most damaging pieces of your propaganda is that your presence is “inspirational.” We have normalized being sick with cancer as a “battle”—as if there are clear winners and losers. To me that is partially true, because I feel like cancer is always the winner. We are always the losers. Even those who “survive” you don’t come out the same on the other side. It’s not a “battle,” it’s a hostile takeover.

It’s me drowning in the ocean, while you come by and push my head down further. The treatments we are forced to undergo feel more like torture than help. We voluntarily ingest poison in efforts to be healthy again. It feels like in order to destroy you, we must destroy ourselves in the process. The worst sort of poison isn’t the chemotherapy, but instead it’s your presence, Cancer. You’re always there, lurking in the shadows. Never letting me take a breath for too long. I never feel safe.

During treatment, I felt stronger than I did after it ended. My body wasn’t strong, but my mind felt determined not to let you win. Each dose of chemotherapy felt like a little something I could do to have control over you. As a teen, I lost control of my body through an eating disorder. It felt eerily similar to going through cancer. I was facing a monster both physically and mentally. Once treatment was over, I felt lost. Believe me, I was grateful that my body was free from cancer, but what about my soul? It felt like cancer had burrowed into every inch of my being. What am I supposed to do now? I felt like I had no way to fight back. The people in my life thought it was over. Time to move on!

How?

It took me a long time to find the answer to that question. In fact, I think it’s something that is ever-changing for me. At first, I thought I could forget that you existed, Cancer. Unfortunately, pretending did more harm than good. I felt like a fraud. I felt lost. I couldn’t force myself to pretend that your presence in my life was something “good.” A heartwarming story arch that you see day after day in the media. Your impact on my life wasn’t a blessing, it was a bomb. I struggled to understand why nobody else felt like this. Most stories I saw involving cancer heavily leaned into the “finding meaning” trope. I was happy for these people, and admittedly I was jealous. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Why can’t I simply move on? Why can’t I see the silver linings? I just saw darkness.

I didn’t feel any hope until the day I decided that I was going to stand up to you, Cancer. I was going to share the truth, my truth. I didn’t care what you or anyone else thought. I was scared as hell, but the alternative was remaining stuck. A month or so into my cancer relapse, I grabbed my phone and started recording. I documented the parts of my cancer experience that felt incredibly isolating, such as losing my hair and friends who ghosted me. I wanted to show people that cancer isn’t sunshine and rainbows, and you don’t have to pretend it is. Each time I shared, I felt it was dismantling another chink in your armor. I felt a little better, too.

Being honest about my feelings led me to others who felt the same way. It was healing to be seen and understood. I saw a real path to making change. Change not only for myself, but for those who come after me. There was a different way of coping. Coping through honesty and shared experiences, normalizing the mind games that you play, Cancer. Giving people a little something they could fight back with that wasn’t a medicine at all. It was community. It was understanding. It was love.

I am nearly four years into sharing my truth, and admittedly it’s exhausting some days. Being an advocate isn’t easy and that’s OK to say. The cancer world is one that comes with a lot of loss, and the losses never stop coming. It doesn’t get easier. I don’t want it to. I wouldn’t be myself if I normalized it. I often think about those who survived and moved on from this. I don’t fault them. I envy them some days. I wonder if they think about cancer as much as I do. I worry I won’t ever heal fully if I don’t move on too. I think that’s what you count on, Cancer. You wear people down to the point that they simply can’t deal with you anymore.

The way I honor my friends like Jordyn, is to keep going even when it’s hard. I have taken steps to practice better self-care and untangle parts of my life from cancer. I saw the burnout coming nearly a year ago and I got into therapy. Therapy is important to me in so many ways. It’s allowed me to still show up in the cancer world every day. It has given me the tools to be OK with not making meaning out of every moment. So, Cancer, I will continue to show up. I will continue to make sure people know they aren’t alone. I won’t let you be the only voice anymore. This community is stronger than you because we have each other.

You don’t have anyone but yourself . . .

This article was featured in the June 2024 Dear Cancer issue of Elephants and Tea Magazine! Click here to read our magazine issues.

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