Dear Cancer, there are a few things you should know about my mom. She is love in human form.
I don’t think I’ve gone a single day since February, without hearing your name or allowing you to consume my thoughts.
You are well known in my family.
You’ve taken some of the people I cherished most in my life from me. You’ve made unforgettable visits to others. Ten years ago you attacked my mother, and she fought you tooth and nail.
She beat you. Yet, she didn’t walk out of that battle untouched. You stole from her emotionally and mentally, and left her with a physical reminder of the pain you caused.
Her mastectomy may represent your greedy nature; however, it also symbolizes her resilience, courage, and strength.
I’m not sure why you felt the need to come back. Haven’t you taken enough?
I distinctly remember February 18th. I knew my mother was going to receive the results of her recent biopsy. After a trusted doctor had told her he was 99 percent positive it wasn’t cancer, I chose to live a “glass half full” kind of day.
I was standing in her bathroom that evening, excited about the new updates I’d made. That’s when she walked in. “Mom, come see.” She walked up the stairs, and I proudly pointed to the new mirror and light fixture I had installed.
I glanced back for her reaction, and her blue eyes met mine—no words were needed to communicate your return. “No,” I whispered. My body fell into hers; our tears streamed together.
I continue to wonder why you are here. Why did you choose her? She’s the most kindhearted person I know.
She has braved so many challenges over the past few years. The universe has been pretty generous with her and our family. She was on a journey of healing and—out of nowhere and without warning—you reappeared.
You knocked the wind out of me and chiseled away at my sense of security.
You’re more aggressive this time, and you are also rare. You showed up masking yourself as an infection. Luckily, she advocates for herself, knows her body best, and trusts her gut—she figured you out.
For a while, you flooded my browser history. You and all of your scary statistics. I had never heard of your type.
I wanted to know everything about you:
What are your symptoms?
How are you treated?
What’s your prognosis?
I realized, after several sleepless nights, that trying to figure you out wasn’t helpful.
You are advanced and come with comments and explanations that don’t sit well with me. You come with the “not good” kind of news. You don’t understand the pain that you cause, the fear that you instill, or even the fatigue you place on her and her family—on me. You aren’t happening within me, but you are taking a toll on me.
I catch myself feeling guilty for expressing how you’re making me feel as if it’s not my turn to be upset (or to feel).
I told my therapist about you. My body was tense, my breathing shallow. I couldn’t get your name out without breaking down into tears. From the other side of the computer screen, he prompted me to breathe. He walked me through the steps, inhaling and exhaling. I realized at that moment just how hard that was for me.
You robbed me of that too—my rhythmic breathing.
No amount of deep breathing relieves me of you. No wishing or praying has ridden you from my life. I constantly feel as though I’m beneath the surface, gasping for air, as I try to keep up with all of your ups and downs, highs and lows.
There are moments that I forget you are here, but you don’t like to be ignored and those moments are short-lived.
Thoughts of you resurface (unexpectedly) during a workout, when I’m out with a friend, or while I’m sitting with a client. Message received—you are here and you aren’t leaving anytime soon.
With you also comes grief. I can’t help but think of the possibility of going through life without my mom. Will she be at my wedding next year? Will she get to pick a name for my children to call her?
My anxiety only exacerbates these fears. I am all too familiar with catastrophic and what if thinking. I try to recognize these thoughts as just that: a thought (easier said than done). Centering myself takes more effort these days.
I wonder, sometimes, are you here as a teacher?
I hate to even admit that there are silver linings. You are teaching me to live presently; to soak up the relationship and the time that is before me, as I had previously been taking it for granted.
While outwardly, my mother beams with positivity, I know she has been suffering within for years. You are teaching her to be gentle with herself. You are forcing her to slow down, to rest; these are lessons that were needed.
“Onward and upward”—that’s her motto. She is finding miracles in each of her days. Her spirituality has kept her positive. Her faith gives her strength. No matter your efforts, that is one thing you are unable to touch.
I’m not sure why you are here, but I hope you have been reminded of how strong she is and how much she is doing to combat you. I hope you are here to teach her only how to love herself and live more fully.
I pray that you are here for nothing more.