Last year I wrote you a letter like this one, but now I am in a very different place, and I have a lot more to say. Last year when I wrote to you, I was a 23-year-old patient struggling with the effects of chemo. Now I am a 24-year-old survivor trying to heal and find my footing again. Last year I told you that I couldn’t believe you showed up in my life. It’s been over a year now, and I still can’t believe it. I am starting to think this feeling of shock and denial will never go away. Last year you stopped my life in its tracks just three weeks before I was set to start my journey to become a nurse. Now, I am on this challenging, but rewarding journey, and getting closer and closer to my destination. Last year, you stole my hair, one of my most prized possessions. Now it’s back and growing as beautiful as ever. Last year, you made me unable to recognize myself in the mirror. Now, I am learning to love this new person I see and growing to accept and appreciate the mended and broken parts of her.
Even though you are no longer in my body, you are still deeply ingrained in my mind. Unfortunately, I still see traces of you in my life every day. I struggle to remember simple words and tasks. Sometimes I am triggered by little things like the smell of alcohol wipes. I panic every time I feel discomfort in my neck, any pain in my body, or when I wake up realizing I had night sweats. I still must face the debt you left me in. Sometimes I feel I can’t be loved in a relationship because no one can handle the heavy baggage I come with. I thought that life after you would be all sunshine and rainbows, and some days are. Some days feel like a walk in the park, but others feel like walking in a pitch-dark tunnel with no light at the end. I am beyond blessed and thankful to be here, and I thank God every day. But you left a huge burden of guilt on my back, and it hurts. I feel it every single day. Why did you come and take over my body for six months and leave, but snatch the lives of other people just as deserving to live? You are evil for that. You cannot convince me that I am more deserving of life than the next. So why me? Why them? Why not me?
Remember when I told you that you put a dark cloud of anxiety over my head that looms there every second of the day? Well, that cloud is still here. Why? Because of the thought that you may return one day. You are like a dormant volcano, waiting to erupt and wreak havoc on my life when I least expect it. I pray every day that you won’t. Please stay where you are and let me live the rest of my life.
Last year, I told you I would never thank you. I couldn’t find a reason to. Now, I hate to admit it, but I found a few. As a future healthcare worker, thank you for giving me a perspective to help and relate to my future patients who are affected by you. Now I can help them not feel alone. Thank you for strengthening my compassion for and desire to help others. Because of the grace, empathy, and compassion shown to me over the past year, I am even more motivated to show up for others in the same way. Thank you for putting life into perspective for me. I used to think that as a young, healthy adult, I was exempt from something as severe as cancer, but you hit me with a reality check. Then I remembered life is short and life is fragile, so every moment here is a blessing. Now, even on my darkest days, I still have so much gratitude, because being alive and being a survivor are privileges I can never take for granted. I still don’t understand why YOU had to be the one to do those things, but I am not sure if I will ever know the answer.
Dear cancer, after dealing with you for over a year, I have finally come to the realization that I can’t completely get rid of you. Your footprint is way too big to ever wipe away. Truth is, when something as big as you comes along and causes the amount of grief, guilt, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and lingering physical effects as you did, it’s almost impossible to get rid of completely. To be honest, I don’t think life is learning to get rid of challenges, but rather learning to live with and get through them. That’s what the beauty of life is. Still finding joy through it all. Every day I challenge myself to do this because you do everything in your power to convince me that I can’t heal. This has not been a linear journey and sometimes I feel like I am going backwards, but I am fighting with every inch of energy I have to prove you wrong. You are putting up a good fight, but it will never be enough to stop me.