The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Dear Tammy (the Tumor)

by Katie YoungSurvivor, Castleman's DiseaseJune 12, 2024View more posts from Katie Young

Dear Tammy (the Tumor),

Hey, it’s me! It’s been a while, over 15 years. Can you believe it? How time flies! I understand you’re still dead and not to be a jerk, but I’m still really excited about that.

I guess I just wanted to say that I’m doing well despite the fact that you existed. It was rough for quite some time, but I’m doing fine. Good job, good life, good friends, etc. I’m basically a normal 30-something navigating the awkward world we live in.

Even though I’m doing fine, I’m still pretty mad at you, and I really wasn’t expecting to feel that way right now. You really, really messed things up for me. You took my life and you flipped it on its head before I was old enough to have a life to begin with. Like it or not (and I don’t), you are the foundation upon which my entire adult life is built.

Without you, I would have graduated college at a completely different time. I would have gotten a completely different job after college. Which means I probably wouldn’t have gone to grad school when I did or even into the field that I went into. That means I wouldn’t have made some of the best friends of my life. No matter where or when I would have done grad school, I definitely would have had a different thesis topic. And then, after grad school, I would not have gotten any of the jobs I’ve had, lived in any of the apartments I’ve rented, made any of the friends I’ve made, dated any of the guys I’ve dated, and the list goes on and on and on and on and will continue to go on for what will be, despite your best efforts, my very long life.

You really messed things up there for a bit. You messed up some friendships. Well, you didn’t, but some situations were brought to a head and I discovered when you’re SICK, some people cannot hang. So now I wander through life without that many friends from the Before Times, and that’s OK. I appreciate the ones who have stayed around more.

You messed up my immune system for years, to the extent that I still don’t know if it’s OK. What 21-year-old gets shingles?! Me, thanks again!

You’ve made it so that when I often look at pictures of me from about ages 19-24, I think, God, I look so tired, so pale. I still wasn’t OK. You robbed me of carefree and happiness at a time when most of my peers were carefree and happy, and I will never forgive you for that.

You’ve given me a weird relationship with a lot of things. If I cough a lot, I still panic that I’m going to cough up blood, even though we’re approaching close to a decade since that happened. I’ll be asked by a guy, who may or may not be my boyfriend, if I’ve seen a particular movie, and I don’t want to answer truthfully with, “I think I was watching it in the hospital one time, but the nurse pushed some Compazine though my IV, which sent me on such a trip that I fell asleep through most of it.” So, I say no and lie a little bit to someone I like just to make things less awkward.

You made COVID a nightmare. I mean, I got to give it to you, Tammy, being all up in that bronchial tube made a respiratory pandemic so much more difficult. Radiated lungs, and a questionable immune system through a pandemic—what a combo!

But I made it through all that. I came out on the other side more or less unscathed, and just to reiterate, things are great! Job great, friends great, sanity reasonable. I’m happy. I’m content. I may even be healthy. And I’ve done so many wonderful things! I went to a rainforest like I’ve always dreamed of. I watched the sun rise over the Himalayas and saw Mount Everest. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve even danced like nobody’s watching. I’ve genuinely made a difference in the lives of many.

Tammy, I wish I could turn this letter around and thank you for being the foundation of an overall great life. Without you, I would most certainly not have it. You took the course of my life and you moved it just a little, to the extent that I am now miles away from where I would have been. But I can’t thank you. I won’t thank you. I don’t want to thank you. Because no matter how beautiful the destination is, I don’t think all journeys are worth it.

I try not to think about if I could have gotten to where I am today without you. If there’s some mystical force of fate that would have led me right here regardless. It’s a purely theoretical exercise that I don’t go on often and usually abandon once I do because the metaphysical gymnastics is too much.

I mean, shouldn’t I be able to say that I have this lovely life at this point? The only sacrifice is a few triggers, two tattooed dots on my back (thanks, radiation), a weird situation where I don’t know if the answer to the question, “Do you have any tattoos?” is no or two, a small scar on my neck that I barely even notice, one to two lost PTO days a year for follow-up appointments and tests, and a guarantee that I will hit my deductible each year (due to the aforementioned appointments and tests). So what does it matter? I’d like to, I really would, Tammy. You have no idea how much I would. I mean, it’s been 15 years; you think I’d be over it. It was practically half my lifetime ago.

I could lie to you right now, but I think we’re past that. I don’t even want to get to a place of being able to thank you for what you’ve given me, and you have given me a lot. I don’t like that about myself. I wish I could be the kind of person to let go of it, to not be upset that it happened, but I’m not. When all is said and done, I do believe you made me a better person, and yet I wish I could say that wasn’t true.

And while I’ve gone on this long and winding tangent, I do want to make sure you understand that I don’t think about you much. Hardly ever, really, and most of the time it’s fleeting. I say to the possible boyfriend, no I haven’t seen that movie, feel weird for a second, and then watch it and have a great time. But sometimes, especially as we approached the 15th anniversary of my learning about you, I THOUGHT about it. I tried to make my peace. I can show you several journal entries listing out the positives I gained from you: the friends, the experiences, the personality traits. I am now an assertive person who makes sure that what needs to happen happens because when you have to do it on a life-or-death scale, doing it on a smaller scale is really nothing.

But at the end of the day, I don’t think peace with you is fully possible. Who knows, maybe I’ll write you a letter in five or fifty years and feel differently. For now, I am content to say, I will never understand you, Tammy. I will never understand why you happened. I will never fully be able to contemplate the ways you recharted the course of my life. I don’t want to understand it, and that is OK.

I hope to never see you again. I hope you continue to become a smaller and smaller part of my existence. I hope you’re enjoying rotting in hell.

Not quite sure what salutation works best here,

Katie

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