Dear Cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma),
Never in a million years did I think I would be writing to you at only 23 years old. You are some people’s worst fear but you weren’t mine. I never even thought to put you on my list. Maybe I would have later on in life, but not at my young age. Out of the estimated 8,830 people you are projected to affect this year, you chose me for some reason. I am three months into treatment and some days I still can’t believe you showed up in my life. You completely blindsided me. When you showed up I was only one month away from turning my long time dream into reality—attending nursing school. There couldn’t have been a worse time for you to make an appearance. You forced me to put my life on hold at a time when I had the most stamina. You have taken so much from me in such a short period of time. You stole my independence and freedom. You took my social life. You took my hair, my crown, my canvas to express myself. You took every penny from my bank account. And that’s not even all you’ve done. You put me on an operating table twice. You bruised my body and discolored my skin. You threw mortality in my face. You physically and mentally isolated me. You made me feel lonely and helpless. You make it hard for me to get out of bed some days. You make it difficult for me to recognize myself in the mirror. You put a dark cloud of anxiety over my head that looms there every second of the day. You compromised my immune system, my body’s strongest line of defense, during a deadly pandemic. Who does that? I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the point. If I was a plant, my leaves would be droopy, flower petals shriveled, and my soil would be brittle and deprived of nutrients. The worst part of it all is I still have to deal with you even after treatment is over. The trauma, the physical scars that will forever remind me of the pain you caused, the lingering side effects, and the deep, dark fear of you returning. You won’t always be as prominent, but you will forever be ingrained in my life in some way, and somehow I must come to terms with this.
Even though you’ve deprived me of so much, somehow you’ve managed to teach me invaluable lessons. You made me realize that life is too short not to cherish every moment of it. From now on, I will make sure to take every opportunity I can to spend time and create memories with my loved ones. You’ve shown me the power of true friendship and the power of community. You’ve filtered the solid friendships from the ones based on convenience. You’ve taught me that blood isn’t thicker than water. You’ve shown me that healthcare is where I belong and nursing is indeed my passion. Most importantly, you’ve shown me that my body is a trailblazer. As I’m writing this letter with discolored fingernails that are as dark as charcoal, I am reminded of all that my body has endured physically. She has tolerated four nasty and powerful drugs pumped through her seven times, and she fully recovers, only to be knocked down by another round of chemotherapy. But she still gets back up. She has five more treatments to go, but still has the strength to endure vigorous exercise four days a week. I have always criticized her, but I will forever be in awe of her strength. I don’t think I can ever fix my lips to shame her again. You’ve opened my eyes up to her beauty. From here on out I will always make sure to take care of her to the best of my ability.
Although I’m grateful for what I’ve learned through this process, I don’t understand why you were the teacher? The Bible says that trials come to test our faith and make us stronger but why did you have to be the trial? Why couldn’t it be something less extreme? What life lesson did I absolutely have to learn at this point in my life and why were you the messenger? If I spend too much time trying to figure out the answers to these questions, my brain will explode. Maybe one day God will answer them for me. For now I have to focus on what good I can get from this. That’s what you’re supposed to do when life gives you lemons, right?
Well, now that I told you how much you’ve taught me, I still can’t say thank you. What would I thank you for? Being the biggest burden I’ve ever had to bear? The nausea, constipation, body aches, brain fog, fatigue, mouth pain, taste changes, insomnia, and hot flashes? The anxiety, depression, frustration, loneliness, helplessness, grief, and guilt you caused? For possibly making me infertile? For the physical, mental, and emotional effects that I will have to deal with for years after treatment? No. You only thank people who give you something. You didn’t give me anything. You only revealed what I was oblivious to. I can never say that I am grateful for you, but now I know that because you couldn’t break me, nothing ever will. And that’s a fact.