Dear Cancer, I Failed at Cancer School

by Missy BurgessJune 11, 2021View more posts from Missy Burgess

Dear Cancer,

I always believe that everything happens for a reason. I might not always know it at the time, but I am in times and places for a purpose. There are lessons to be learned in every situation.

If it is possible, though, I think I failed at “cancer school.” As a former straight A student and recovering nerd, this is hard to swallow, but I think it is true. Others come out of their experience grateful, with new perspectives, and ready to change the world as advocates, thrivers, and better humans. I’m still waiting for that diploma and transcript to come in the mail.

I was diagnosed 6 weeks after my 40th birthday, so I am technically outside of the AYA community. I find myself straddling the “young” and “old” communities, feeling on the outside looking into both, still looking for my herd.

You showed me the incredible power of having a support team near and far with “Team Missy” spreadsheets and cards and care packages coming every week, but why do I still feel so isolated?

You provided me with an absolutely incredible care team of nurses, surgeons, and therapists who are some of the genuinely most caring people on the planet, but why do I still feel rage when I have to deal with the insurance company?

You reminded me to live every day to the fullest, as tomorrow is never promised, but now I spend too much time thinking about whether I need to save for a retirement I may never see.

You taught me lessons about boundaries and life beyond work, but why did you leave me with fatigue that makes me just want to sleep during that newfound me time?

You showed me that there are bigger things to stress about, like fighting to live, but why do I let the little things still get to me

You gave me lessons in vulnerability; I can say that more people have seen my naked chest in the last year than ever in my life, but why am I still self-conscious about my half-grown eyebrows?

You provided me with valuable, scientific resources that have legitimate research and data, but why do I still go down the late night Google rabbit hole more times than not?

You taught me lessons about fun with jigsaw puzzles and crazy socks, but my bucket still feels empty most days.

You showed me stats on why I should eat healthier, eat less sugar, and weigh less, but you forgot to help me with the willpower to choose carrots and broccoli instead of donuts and cosmic brownies when all I want to do is eat my emotions.

You gave me new friends and made old friendships stronger, but can you help me learn how to have conversations again that don’t involve cancer, hospitals, insurance, or the other things that seem to fill up my mind and awkwardly spill out in all conversations?

You taught me that everyone’s cancer path looks and feels differently, but why do I feel guilty about making it through with fairly minimal side effects or even surviving in general?

I kicked cancer’s ass, but no one told me about the after party with mental health in survivorship. Who knew that active treatment might have been the easy part? Do I have to live this game until I pass your classes? Is there a test out option? Do you offer extra credit? C’s get degrees, right?

I went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 2 surgeries, and 28 rounds of radiation, and I failed at cancer school. The thought of having to repeat these courses, though, is now my greatest fear.

To read this letter and the other letters to cancer, click here to read and download the June 2021 Magazine

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One Comment

  • Krista Harrell says:

    Love you, Missy. Thank you for bearing your soul and your experience. I know I am not the only one who finds comfort knowing that I’m not alone in the challenges.

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