A Post-Cancer Letter To Pre-Cancer Me
Dear Pre-Cancer Me…
Oh, hey girl. You’re looking great. Cute shoes.
...But you may want to sit down. I’ve got a little bomb to drop on you.
This won’t make sense right now, but hear me out…you’re gonna get cancer.
I know, right? Crazy. Stage three. Ovarian. Lots of chemo and surgery ahead. Say “sayonara” to your uterus, spleen, ovaries, hair, and breasts. And super sorry, but…four years after your diagnosis, you’ll still be dealing with one pesky area in your liver.
Here’s the thing: hindsight is easier than foresight.
Post-Cancer Me has a whole different perspective on things. This makes sense because when you’re in the midst of a stressful and chaotic experience, it’s nearly impossible to retain a neutral, logical outlook.
And just to give you a heads up…
You’re gonna need to endure twenty-four chemo sessions.
A hysterectomy. A splenectomy. A double mastectomy.
An infection from the mastectomy, and a subsequent five-night stay at the hospital for round-the-clock antibiotics.
A ruptured tissue expander in your left breast, then a quick surgery to replace it.
A collapsed breast pocket, and a subsequent breast reconstruction surgery.
Two liver ablations to kill a liver tumor.
Then a one-time dose of radiation to kill it for the THIRD time.
Hopefully, that’s it. Only time will tell.
But look - among all that trauma and chaos, you’ll also gain a new sense of strength. A sense of purpose.
You’ll publish a memoir, and write another one. You’ll fall in love with weightlifting. You’ll finally go to see a therapist and start prioritizing your mental health. You’ll learn more about yourself in those four years than you have in your entire life.
So darling, Pre-Cancer Me, here are some tidbits that I’d like you to keep in mind as you trudge through the sludge of fighting cancer.
1) The bad days are temporary.
You know that expression “The days are long but the years are short”? That totally applies here. On a day-to-day basis, your brain is entrenched in chemo, doctor appointments, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, sadness, hair loss, insomnia, and a fresh aversion to nearly all foods. (Bye-bye to coffee!) The hours slog by at a glacial pace and you can’t even fathom a time when it’ll all be finished.
But eventually, it will.
At some point, your loving mom will say, “One day you’ll look back, and this will all be in the past.” And you’ll say something snippy because you’re tired and scared and queasy.
But Mom is always right.
There are good days in your future - and lots of them.
There are moments of absolute joy, moments where your heart is so full, that you cry and cry and cry and can’t believe you still have the ability to feel totally fulfilled.
So, try and remember this, especially during that time when you’re crying in the living room watching “Real Housewives Of Orange County” and wondering if you will ever feel joy again. You will.
2) Having said that, it’s OK to feel sad and awful.
Look, Post-Cancer Me is a fan of retaining a positive demeanor through dark times, but you should never judge yourself for feeling sadness, resentment, fury, envy, frustration, and utter despair. You HAVE to allow yourself to feel that way. Your instinct will be to drown out that noise, or to brush past that - because sitting in those feelings is certainly no picnic. But the only way to truly process and move past those feelings, darling Pre-Cancer Me, is to sit your tush in those dark emotions and lean into them. Cry. Keep crying. Then cry some more. Break the remote control. (Then hurry to Target and buy a new one before anyone notices.) Do whatever you gotta do to spend time in those dark moments...then release them.
I recommend sobbing, shattering a dish, then cuddling with cats.
Just know that it’s OK to feel exactly how you do.
3) Fear will have a very powerful grip on you.
Prior to your “Big C Diagnosis,” the only fear you’d really known was the normal stuff: spiders, fire, clutter, and the giant impending earthquake in L.A. that we all collectively pretend won’t happen. Then your world got tossed upside down and suddenly everything was scary.
Worrying became a huge component of daily life. You worry whether you’ll pull through. Whether the side effects from treatment are normal. Whether they’ll last forever. Whether you’ll get a recurrence.
Whether you’ll have to fight cancer for the rest of your life.
But guess what? This fear will morph into hope.
Hope is just as powerful as fear.
As you continue to progress through each week and each milestone during treatment, little slivers of hope peek through, like tiny rays of sunshine. The more room you create for hope, the less room you hold for fear. Soon, you’ll start living in a place of hope, and life will feel so much better than you ever imagined.
4) Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Movie quote alert! You know that part of “The Matrix” where Morpheus says, “The body cannot live without the mind”? Pure wisdom.
You are going to be vastly unprepared for how much this journey will affect your mental health, prior to which you never sought therapy or dedicated much attention to your mental well-being.
That’s gonna change.
Once your physical strength slips away from chemo and surgeries, your mental health gets worn down. And when you don’t have your physical OR mental health, you’ve got nothing. So please pay extra close attention to your psychological welfare during this time. Be kind to yourself. As mentioned before, the bad days are temporary. And don’t neglect the well-being of that three-pound Jell-O mass in your skull.
5) Try to find peace among the chaos.
Yeah, it’s easier said than done. But if you wait for everything to be perfect before you’re happy, you’ll be waiting a long time. I know, I know, how can you be happy when you’re sick and bald and tumor-y and constantly on the edge of panic attacks? Well, by making the best of things, and being grateful for the things you DO have. Your family. An incredible team of the best doctors and nurses in the world. An army of people behind you, both in real life and online. A body that can handle the onslaught of trauma. A roof over your head. Snuggly cats. And the knowledge that you WILL get through this.
So, Pre-Cancer Me, you’re in for a tough ride. But not an impossible one. You’ll come out of this a stronger, healthier, happier human. Just strap in, get some wigs, and show that cancer who’s boss.
Photo courtesy of the author.