Dear Younger Self,
I’m sorry I never took it seriously. You know, those hundreds of adults who told you that your fair-skinned complexion would never make you tan—no matter how much time in the sun is spent with no sunscreen in sight. Those moments when your parents told you that it wasn’t cool to have a sunburn. Countless minutes spent under a fake light just to try and fit in.
I know it is difficult to not only be a pale young girl, but to also have a laundry list of self-esteem issues stemming from it. Growing up being bullied for how you looked only made that worse. Not being a skinny girl was the cherry on top. You’ve experienced coming from a broken home early in life and thousands of tears centered around absent and emotionally immature parents. I fully believe that because of this you see time in the sun as your happy place.
Nothing beats feeling the sun on your face on a hot summer day before a cannonball into the deep end of a pool. In fact, the science behind Vitamin D and the emotional chemicals it activates validates those days you escape your worries and fears to sit near a pool and fall asleep. I see you. I believe in you. I know how hard it was growing up. As a 30-year-old adult, I can only tell you now that the sun is no longer your best friend. All of those things that you were told have come true. The sunburns have aged your skin, and the words you never thought you’d hear—well, you heard them.
“You have cancer.”
You see, sweet young girl, those second-degree sunburns and more blistering than you can count have caught up with you. The “cool tan lines” that were red, not brown, turned out to be far from interesting. Your high school pool days and college days of frequenting the tanning bed after class have reared its violent head. One Tuesday the world will come to a stop in less than a five-minute phone call. No one will prepare you for the day you hear those words on the other line from your dermatologist: “I’m afraid your spot is an advanced and aggressive form of Melanoma, and we need to do surgery ASAP.” And no one could even fathom doing what you did that day—stopped crying, put on a fake face, and immediately went back to work.
But listen to me—don’t shut your feelings and your people out. You should go home and call your family. You will try to keep working through your darkest days, and it will shut you down mentally. Don’t make the mistake of keeping such a large secret in the dark. Yes, it’s true that you’ll fear those same family members saying, “I told you so”. But they won’t say that.
You feel guilty about not taking their advice but not once will blame be placed on you. They’ll open their arms wide with grace and empathy, and they know that when you tell them you’re handling things well, you are, in fact, NOT. When someone tells you to lean on them, do it. Cry the tears that come on. Okay, let me repeat that part—PLEASE CRY. Please say you are not okay. Seek a therapist. Be vulnerable. Feel the feelings you need to have to work through it. It’s a traumatic experience, and with that comes grace. You’re going to do the best you can. Brighter days will come, sweetheart.
And when those brighter days come, remind yourself that you still need grace every day. No one is perfect and the expectations of your life changes have not burdened anyone because of a cancer diagnosis. You are not a burden. Yes, you will have obstacles outside of the road to being cancer-free. There will be severe anxiety and depression you’ve never experienced. There will also be people that walk into your life who understand you, see you, and hear you fully. Some days your fatigue will be so high that getting out of bed is more of a complex process than a mundane task. Getting angry with yourself for “being unproductive” on certain days will get you nowhere—see above about giving yourself grace.
You will also combat that fatigue in being consistent inside of the gym, which will make getting out of bed worthy of doing. Inner strength as well as outer strength will shine through in your great comeback. You may gain some weight because of your treatments, and yes, working in the fitness industry will make you feel less than and like you’re not a good example. But it’s also a segue to telling your story to everyone you encounter. Your physical and mental resilience will prevail.
You will be called an inspiration and a role model; never take those words lightly. Someone is always watching, and many are rooting for you without ever acknowledging it to you directly. Friendships will end. Some that you never expected to end and some that were all but over long before your diagnosis. Your family will be there at any hour of the day.
I know what you’re asking yourself: “Will I be happy again?” While I can’t predict the future beyond this moment, I can say that falling in love with yourself again after becoming cancer-free will provide the most happiness you have had in quite some time. There’s a feeling of peace that you’ve never felt before. You’ll find clarity in aspects of your life that have always been cloudy. You will enjoy the sun (safely) once again in small quantities. Life itself will hit a reset button in a sense, and priorities will change. You will realize your life’s calling and doors will open. These doors are ones you have never explored but fell into your lap. And sweet girl, you’ll realize that your worst season of life thus far has become your best. Embrace it. Become it. The new you is blossoming, and it’s a beautiful thing to experience.