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

Two Ribbons

by Dr. Crystal ChampionSurvivor, Breast and Endometrial CancerJune 27, 2024View more posts from Dr. Crystal Champion

Dear Cancer,

I never would have thought that December 31, 2019, would be a day I would receive news that would change my life forever. I was in a complete state of denial, shock, and disbelief as I sat in my car in a parking lot. I was in a twilight zone, a space that I had never experienced before in my life. I couldn’t even allow tears to roll down my face. How could this be happening to me? Why did life have to throw me such a curveball right now? All the hard work I had put into my business and nonprofit was finally starting to pay off, and now my life would have to come to a screeching halt. Lord, why this timing? Why this date? Why on New Year’s Eve? Now I will be forced to face this horrible memory every year! Lord, what was I being prepared for? Your word says you will never put more on me than I can bear, but the uncertainty and gravity of this heavy moment are too much for me! I knew people looked at me as such a strong, resilient soul, but come on! I have helped many others through this same situation, yet I didn’t have the words to comfort and encourage myself. Certainly, this could not be how my 2020 was going to start. I am a good person. I have a heart for serving and helping others. What was the purpose of me going through this? Please make it all make sense! In that moment, I received a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in-situ (stage 0 breast cancer) of my left breast. It was all very surreal to me. I didn’t know who I wanted to tell, or if I even wanted to tell anyone at all. It was very difficult for me to share the news with my immediate family. I was the baby girl, the strong one, the fearless one, the adventurous one who went skydiving and jumped out of a perfectly good plane, yet this news shattered their hearts into a million pieces.

Dear Cancer, I didn’t know I was being prepared to enter a fight with you when I decided to advance my physical therapy career to become a certified lymphedema therapist in 2016. I didn’t know that the knowledge I obtained while serving on my hospital’s cancer committee and treating patients for cancer rehabilitation would be the information used to save my own life. I didn’t know that starting my own nonprofit organization, Champion’s Can! Foundation for Cancer Wellness, Inc., was preparing me to follow the advice I so freely gave to other cancer survivors and their families to help them navigate their journeys. I wish I had known that although my cancer was diagnosed at a very early stage, I would live with the fear of recurrence and experience PTSD and “scanxiety” with every doctor’s visit, lab test, or imaging test. I never knew I would experience survivors’ guilt as I treat my patients who experience cancer journeys more difficult than I can even fathom. I didn’t know that being diagnosed with early-stage cancer would have the same impact as being diagnosed with late-stage cancer. Cancer is cancer, and it is a traumatizing experience no matter the stage. I wish I had known that you would force me to put down my “superwoman cape” and seek counseling so that I could climb out of the mental health crisis that I was facing. I wish I had known that going through a cancer diagnosis alone as a single Black woman would be the loneliest time of my life. I wish that I didn’t have to find out that “ghosting” is real and that not everyone can handle me disclosing my cancer diagnosis to them. I never knew as a cancer survivor that cancer would be in my face all day, every day as I perform my physical therapy work. It is so very exhausting to never get a break from the dreaded “C” word. I never knew how selfless I could be to put my own fears, insecurities, and anxieties about cancer aside to continue to provide support and be an emotional and physical cheerleader for my own patients.

Dear Cancer, I didn’t know you would be so cruel to blindside me again on December 28, 2023, with stage 1 endometrial cancer. And why did you have to come again so close to the date that I was diagnosed with breast cancer? You have made the holidays a very difficult time for me. Each year since 2019, I hesitate to put up Christmas decorations in my home as it is a stark reminder of the mental breakdown I had in the middle of my living room floor as I tried to take down my decorations the day after I received my initial breast cancer diagnosis. Why did the medication I was taking to prevent breast cancer cause issues with my uterus? You have attacked vital parts of my womanhood: my breasts and my uterus. You have robbed me of the chance to ever experience pregnancy and to bear my own offspring. You have left scars that I have to look at in the mirror daily as a constant reminder of what you took from me. Scar gels and creams are not enough to erase the pain of your remnants.

Dear Cancer, although I am extremely angry with you, I want to thank you for teaching me that I did not know my own strength. Thank you for teaching me that early detection was key to saving my life from two types of you. Thank you for teaching me to value precious moments and the most important things in life. Thank you for showing me that being independent is not a badge of honor, and that asking for and accepting help is not a sign of weakness. Thank you for teaching me how to be a better physical therapist and to advocate for my patients by giving me invaluable insight from both sides of the table as a cancer patient and survivor as well as a medical professional. Thank you for humbling me enough to help me understand the physical, emotional, and financial anguish that my patients experience. Thank you for teaching me that my life is not my own, and showing me that my purpose is to continue to be an advocate for other cancer survivors and thrivers in the fight. Thank you for giving me the bravery to share my story with others. Thank you for not stopping my purpose and for elevating it as well as my platform to help others. If I can help just one person, then the life I live will not be in vain. Thank you for helping me to realize that although I am now a two-time cancer survivor at the age of 42, sporting both pink and peach ribbons, I will always be a CHAMPION and a beacon of light and hope for the world to see. Dear Cancer, I am grateful to you for teaching me many life lessons, but I hope we never cross paths again!

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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