When you first entered my life, I greeted you with my fists up, ready to fight. You were scary… but I knew giving up was scarier. You never failed to remind me day after day that you were there. You whispered in my ear, “Time is running out. Just give up. You’re never getting out of here alive.” At first, I shouted back at you. You’re wrong about me! I will show you! You are nothing. You’re a temporary inconvenience in my life, nothing more.
Slowly you continued to unpack your things and set up roots in my life. Your presence permeated every aspect of my identity. I’m the mom with cancer now. I’m the wife with cancer now. You quickly erased everything I was and made me feel like you were my only friend. “Nobody else understands you,” you hissed. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so brave anymore. My fists fell to my side; my fight response was extinguished like a flame.
Cancer, you don’t fight fair. When you found me, I was an easy target. A childhood abuse survivor, an insecure people pleaser, and a workaholic. On paper my life looked good. In an Instagram square my life looked like something to envy. I was making good money, I was married, I had a child, and I even had a house with a yard. But no matter what I accomplished it never felt like enough. I was never enough. Somehow you showed up and made me even less. One of the cruelest parts of how you operate is that you convinced everyone else I’m more … I’m so brave. I’m so strong. I’m handling everything so well. I got this … (but I didn’t).
You turned me into a body and a soul made of glass. Yet on the outside people saw me as a knight valiantly riding into battle. How am I supposed to slay a dragon when one touch will make me shatter? You were always so skillful at exploiting my pain to ensure I was weak. The worst part? I had no idea what you were doing until it was too late.
Every day you chipped away another little piece of me. Never relenting, never letting me catch my breath. You just kept kicking me while I was on the ground. You had control over my body, and now you had my mind as well. “They would be better off without you. Look at all the pain you’ve caused your family. Just give up!” you screamed in my ear. Your voice drowned out everyone else. I thought maybe you were right. You shifted the blame from your shoulders to mine. I was being crushed. I was drowning. I can’t do this, I don’t have the strength to fight. I can’t flee, now what?
I became a shell of a human. I shut off all my emotions. If I don’t have emotions, you can’t hurt me. I disconnected from my body and my mind. It was about survival only. I put on a fake smile and pretended like I was fine. You loved that. It pushed people even further away because I convinced them I was OK. I wasn’t OK. Am I OK now? Ultimately, you might not have been successful in killing my body, but you killed my soul. Processing the life I had before cancer as a death gave me a road map forward. A death I can grieve, where I can explain my feelings. I can explain my pain; I have an excuse.
When treatment ended the first time, I desperately wanted to try and escape you. I shoved you in a tiny box and threw you to the depths of my mind. It was time for us to break up. It’s not ME, it’s definitely YOU. I accepted that you had killed who I was, but I wanted to rebuild. For the first time in awhile I had some hope. This hope felt like magic, and I clung to it with all my might. That magic faded when I relapsed, and I put up my white flag. You won. I had no more hope left in me. You swallowed me whole. I was in the belly of the beast, and I figured I wasn’t getting out alive. It took every ounce of me to keep going, I wasn’t going to let you take me away from my daughter.
The day I was officially declared no evidence of disease (NED) came almost two and a half years into our relationship, but I didn’t feel better. I didn’t cry. I didn’t smile. I didn’t feel relieved. I didn’t FEEL. Period. My feelings got shut off a long time ago. They were too easy for you to manipulate, and I had gotten my hopes up once before. Honestly, I was scared to feel again.
So where does this leave us now, Cancer? This year marks a total of five years that you have been a part of my life. Even though you’ve been “gone” for a while on paper, we both know you never left. You remind me on a daily basis of your presence in my “second chance at life.” Some days I’m not even sure this is a life. I often feel stuck between two worlds. I’m a ghost. Maybe I spent so much time trying not to die, that I can’t remember how to live. I want to live again. I also don’t feel grateful for the chance to live some days. The destruction you left behind often feels so heavy to carry and I’m tired. So tired.
To conclude this letter, I think I would be remiss in not acknowledging one of the good things you brought into my life. Remember when you convinced me that you were my only friend? I hope it pisses you off to know that you brought me an entire second family, my cancer family. Nobody would choose to be in your club, Cancer, but I must admit once you’re in, the people are some of the best. These lovely souls have held a mirror up and shown me what’s beautiful about myself. They have also held space for the ugly parts of me that you created. They don’t judge me; they just love me.
I’m trying to love myself now. Maybe for the first time in my life.
I realized while writing this letter that I am giving you way too much power. You can’t kill my soul. You can change it and even break it, but I can slowly pick up the pieces. Even if they don’t fit perfectly anymore, there’s beauty in broken things. I am ready to take back control.
The best part is that I am doing this for ME. Not to prove to you I can. Not to live up to my dragon fighting reputation—but just to be happy. I finally feel worthy of being happy. So, consider this letter my official goodbye to you. I know you will always be lurking in the background, but I’m done giving you control. I am worthy of living, really living. I am going to be true to who I really am and live authentically. Yes, I am scared, but I’m going to do it anyway. To quote a line from one of my favorite musicals, Hamilton, “Dying is easy, living is harder.”
So, Cancer, I’ll never say I’m grateful we crossed paths. I never want you back. To quote Miss Taylor Swift, “We are never, ever, ever getting back together.” Like ever. But I do want to say thank you for pushing me off the ledge so I could finally learn to fly. Life is pretty damn beautiful from this view.
P.S. – F*!K YOU 🙂