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

You Are Perfect

by Courtney BurnettPatient, Brain CancerMarch 30, 2021View more posts from Courtney Burnett

A few months ago, a young woman who knew me through a mutual friend asked me how old I was. When I told her I had just turned thirty, she said “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but when I’m your age, I hope I don’t turn out like you…. You know, with cancer.”

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure how to take her statement the right way.

After recovering from a momentary shock, I told her, “Cancer is the best damn thing that has ever happened to me” and went on to explain why.

Let me pause for a moment and introduce myself. My name is Courtney. I am a thirty-year-old physician living and working in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer, more specifically, anaplastic astrocytoma, in February of 2020. Since my diagnosis, I have been through a whirlwind of unexpected events including two brain surgeries, six weeks of radiation therapy and six months of chemotherapy. Though all of this, I have used writing as a therapeutic way to process my unwanted and unanticipated battle with cancer. I write a blog at and am publishing my first book in February 2021, Difficult Gifts: A Physician’s Journey to Heal Body and Mind is a memoir filled with honest, intimate stories of my real-life journey to find happiness, joy, and compassion in a crazy and mysterious life. Spoiler alert, the overarching idea of this book is that cancer turned out to be a gift in my life, a difficult one, but a gift nonetheless.

I originally wrote this story as a post on my blog. While trying to think of something to share with all of you, fellow young adult cancer warriors, I thought this story might be one many of us could relate to.

Where was I? Oh yes, “Cancer is the best damn thing that ever happened to me,” I told her.

I don’t tell this story to embarrass this young woman or to gain sympathy. Even though no one has told me “I hope I don’t turn out like you” so directly before, I can guarantee it is neither the first nor the last time a young person has thought about how happy they are to be “normal” and cancer free when they meet me and learn my story.

This year, while learning to embrace my new reality with cancer, I became a writer. I met an inspirational, incredible cancer community though social media groups and networking events.  I continued to work in my dream career, as an internal medicine physician. I lost my hair, but I got to wear a super fun wig instead. I got divorced, but I also found a new partner, unexpectedly, who brings happiness and joy to me every single day. I bought myself a beautiful house in my dream neighborhood because life is short, and I don’t plan to waste one minute of it.

So, to those “normal” young adults who “hope they don’t turn out like us,” I disagree. We, fellow cancer warriors, are so strong. We have been given an opportunity to live our life to the fullest. We have learned not to take our time for granted. We have been given a difficult gift, a gift that challenges us, motivates us, pushes us, and forces us out of our comfort zones and into a world filled with blessings we are only starting to realize.

I am 30 years-old. I am a doctor, homeowner, a partner, a dog mom, and a soon-to-be published author. I literally couldn’t have dreamt I would “turn out to be” this lucky.

On the outside, I have cancer. When I tell people this, they express sympathy. I find this a little funny. Really, there is nothing at all to be sorry about. I may have some challenges I didn’t expect to have, but don’t we all in some way or another?

I am living my very best life, every single day. I am accomplishing dreams and goals that may take someone else years to accomplish, because I have mortality chasing me and I won’t let it catch me until I’m done.

Cancer woke up my full potential. Cancer found a young woman struggling to be someone better, happier, more accepting, more joyful, more honest, and more inspiring, and Cancer said, “Wake up, lady!” Thank you, Cancer.

Today I sit in the sunroom of my new beautiful home with my dog at my feet and light reflecting off of the Mississippi River across the street into my eyes and I know, I have turned out even better than I ever dreamed I would.

To my readers, fellow cancer warriors, readers doubting themselves, readers feeling stuck, readers feeling tired, readers feeling underappreciated- take a minute to think about all you have accomplished in this life so far. Think of the lives you’ve changed, created, shaped, taught, and inspired. I can think of many who have had these roles in my life, and I hope to continue doing my own small part to pass this forward. You are enough, just as you are. You turned out exactly as you were supposed to, and then some.


Courtney Burnett

Courtney Burnett Memoir

All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at 

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