I have honestly feared you for as long as I can remember. A feeling of you meeting me along the way was consistently looming over me. So much so, that I can recall telling friends and family that I felt you would come for me, and I wondered if you already had. I wondered many times if you were secretly growing and I just didn’t know yet. Interestingly, one day, you were secretly growing and I just didn’t know it yet. It was the week before my thirty-fifth birthday when you decided to show up during a once-in-a-century global pandemic, while I was hopped up on postpartum anxiety hormones from my then two-year-old son that made me fear germs (of all things). Read the room, Cancer. Timing is everything.
Still, here I am, a year and two months past the date the surgeon—who didn’t believe my breasts should have been used to nurse my children, and who decided to berate me for said nursing while she biopsied the breast you were in—called me on the phone to tell me you had, in fact, been growing for at least two months inside my right breast. You see, Cancer, had it not been for a global pandemic and my postpartum anxiety, which caused me to fear germs, I certainly would have gone in to get checked out when I noticed your lumpiness in my breast. Somehow for two months I missed you, even though I feared you were coming for me. I find that interesting, and I find you interesting, Cancer.
You see, you try to take identities, happiness, joy, lives, purpose, hope, and health; you try to take everything we have and make us nothing. But, I know, you are learning you can’t. I know, Cancer, you are realizing your limits. Because you didn’t consider that joy and sorrow could intertwine in our lives so beautifully. You didn’t consider the communal bond those of us who meet you end up gaining. That’s right Cancer, we GAIN. Don’t try to take the credit, though, we gain because we are “humans being human together,” like Desmond Tutu taught us to be. We gain despite you, Cancer, and we grow deeply into our identities; into ourselves despite you. I know you didn’t consider that we stay ourselves despite you coming for us. Like our friend, the late and amazing Nightbirde said, “[We] are so much more than the bad things that happen to [us].” And we are, Cancer. We are more than you. I am more than you.
I walk on, one foot out into what I call “the cautiously-hopeful after.” Don’t be fooled, Cancer, I see you trying to loom over me. I sense you there trying to take anything you can. I have news for you, Cancer, you already took what you could from me. You took some time, some hair, and my breasts and nipples. But I am not interested in letting you take more from me. I am no longer wondering if you will come for me, or even wondering if you will come for me again. Instead, I am living despite you, Cancer, despite knowing the chances I have that you will return. I live with greater intention, resolve and I am more deeply connected to those around me. Cancer, I plan to live this way for the remainder of my days, despite you.
It’s like I have new eyes. I see through you now Cancer. I won’t let you have power over me anymore.
This article was in the 2022 Dear Cancer issue of Elephants and Tea Magazine! Click here to read our magazine issues.
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