If I would have written this letter a year ago, I’d have said you ruined my life. A year ago I was regularly having flashbacks of going through aggressive treatment for Primary Mediastinal Large B Cell Lymphoma during the winter months of 2020 and 2021. A year ago I was still reeling from my third cross-country move in as many years. A year ago, my body was still getting rid of all the toxins from the aggressive chemotherapy regimen I was put through. A year ago, I still felt so damn misunderstood by my friends and family.
Now? My life looks different. Thank goodness for the attention, love, and care from AYA groups for consistently creating online activities for young cancer survivors who feel isolated and alone. The friends I’ve made through these experiences alone have immensely changed my life.
Cancer, you taught me that even when my own blood seems to be my enemy, there are people who I haven’t met in real life (and may never have the chance to) who understand what I’m going through. You gave me more empathy to forgive the people in my life who shield themselves away from my pain and suffering, and ultimately, me… and to not hold resentment towards those people. You taught me to not hold people to unrealistic standards they will never understand because they haven’t been through my JoUrNeY.
Cancer, you taught me a new way to see life. I’ll never use my own words towards myself (during tough moments) or anyone else’s to define who I am. I won’t wait… for anything. I don’t have time to wait.
Cancer, you taught me that this membership to your club really isn’t so bad. Yes, I will have anxiety about you inhibiting my body again and yes, I will more than likely combat PTSD the rest of my days. But the friendships and conversations about life with people also in your club? That is the highest praise I can give to you. Cancer, you provided me with the type of relationships and friendships I wouldn’t have had the chance to have, otherwise. People who cut right to the chase, people who know there is no time to waste.
Over the past week alone, I’ve had the opportunity to meet up with two friends I’ve met through the cancer world. While both friendships have blossomed over several months, one of them has been for more than a year. Going through cancer during a global pandemic was the most isolating experience I will ever face; I didn’t have the energy to keep up with friendships or make new friendships while I was going through active treatment. Being able to connect with these women and have conversations about cancer-related experiences has been a positive life-altering experience for me.
In addition, over the last week, I’ve been able to speak with newer cancer friends, on the phone, about other cancer-related topics that needed addressed. Again, these conversations wouldn’t have been possible with non-cancer friends or family. So cancer, thank you for creating human beings who go through these terrible, life-altering experiences and make it their life mission to connect young adult cancer survivors, so the next generation of cancer survivors have the support they need to make their experiences better. Without AYA organizations, my quality of life after cancer would not be as good as it is in this very moment.
Cancer, you gave me more time with family, and for that I am grateful. I was living in a different state than my family when I was diagnosed but ultimately sought treatment in my home state, as they had the first available “slot” to be seen over any of the other cancer hospitals we researched. During treatment, I wasn’t able to spend time with my four-month-old niece. My immunocompromised immune system wouldn’t allow it; my oncology team didn’t either. I had a lot of time on my hands to miss her, so when treatment was over and I had the opportunity to see family, I made it a mission to spend as much time with her as possible. I have a new appreciation for the time I get to spend with loved ones; cancer gave me that insight, a department I was lacking in before.
I used to see some tasks as banal or not productive. Cancer, you’ve taught me to enjoy the moments of walking my 14-year-old dog who was with me during my treatment. He was a bit ahead of me; we got a cancerous mass removed from his elbow in the summer of 2020. We shrugged it off, conditioned to push away fears of the word people didn’t dare speak of: cAnCeR. We kept going full speed ahead in our corporate full-time jobs, which demanded even more of our time during that first year of COVID.
Once my treatment was over and I wasn’t permitted back to my job working part-time hours after going through aggressive chemotherapy, I lingered on my walks with my cancer buddy. I watch him stumble on walks, keep track of his daily changes and challenges, all with the knowledge that “this too shall pass” and one day, those tasks won’t be on my list of things to do. So, for now, I have earned the right to watch in awe, to thank him for his time here with me, to remind him he’s the best dog I’ll ever come in contact with. Without my own cancer diagnosis, I wouldn’t have given myself permission to revel in these last few months of his life and recognize that this job, though it may not be adding to my 401k, sure is providing me with lifelong knowledge I’ll no doubt need to use, again and again.
With enough time and clarity, I can honestly say, you changed my life for the better. Instead of planning my life around hospital trips, I plan trips to see survivor friends I’ve made from social media. Being nearly two years NED (no evidence of disease), I’ve had enough time and space to see life for what it is and to appreciate that, instead of hoping for it to look different. I’m actually able to give life advice to other survivors regarding difficult situations I’ve been in since having treatment. Not all of this advice is strictly cancer-related. We have conversations regarding other life topics, of course. We just have a stronger bond from the get-go, a better understanding of the trauma they have gone through, as at times it mirrors my own.
Cancer don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have asked for you in a million years. If I could go back to November 25, 2020 and not had a COVID test at 9 am, an X-ray at 11 am, followed by a CT scan at 1:30 pm that turned into a phone conversation where I was advised I had cancer by 5 pm, I would, in a heartbeat. Not understanding why I was allowed to have my significant other come with me to a CT scan while everyone else couldn’t, during a global pandemic. Having cupcakes with my immediate family on my 29th birthday in the courtyard at the James Cancer Research Hospital in Columbus, OH, sitting in a wheelchair hooked up to chemotherapy. Those are memories and images I would give back in a heartbeat. You turned my world upside down and I’ll forever hate that date. I’ll forever be a different person. My life is now distinguished by before cancer and after cancer.
Dear Cancer, no matter how many life challenges I face, no matter where in the world I end up, no matter how many titles I hold, my most important life accomplishment will be the strength and willpower I found within myself during my time spent with you. I wish I could thank you, but I never will. Although you’ve given me so much, you’ve taken more. Maybe in time my mind will shift, and I’ll see you in another light. Much can change in just one year’s time.
As other survivors are well versed, I can’t “bid you adieu.” You will forever be a part of me.