Dear Cancer…

Things have been steadily getting better for me for the most part. My sores are slowly healing and I’m able to eat slightly more. My taste is back so food is a little more appealing, though it still takes forever to eat. I won’t know until sometime in January or February if I’m free of disease, but for now I’m going to hope and believe I am. I’m grateful I’ve come as far as I have as quickly as I have, but I’m still insanely depressed some days and I’m also angry. I think that allowing myself to feel the anger and loss could help me move forward. So today, I’m writing a letter to cancer.

Dear cancer,

Actually, scratch the “dear”, because you are nowhere near deserving of that respect. Cancer, you have shown up uninvited to many, many lives. Each time you plant your ugly roots in one person, you actually affect everyone who cares for that person as well. You create fear, chaos, anxiety, pain, depression, and feelings of helplessness. You steal happy times and throw us into this pit of despair where we try desperately to stay afloat with what little energy we have left after you’ve ravaged our bodies and our minds. You take kids out of school in the most important years of their lives. You rip grandparents out of children’s arms and parents from their babies and babies from their parents. You do not discriminate at all. Any age, race, religion, or sex will suit you just fine to destroy.

Personally, last Summer was going amazingly well for me. I was finding myself and having a blast with my son and my friends and moving forward doing great things in my career. Everything seemed to be wonderful…until I discovered you. You had many doctors fooled because I was young and healthy. But we got you. My surgeons carefully cut you out and took almost half my tongue with you…you had grown so large so fast! You had already reached deeper inside and gotten into a lymph node. So the surgeons took about 26 of them from me. Do you know how hard it is to heal when you’re missing that many lymph nodes? The swelling was awful. I spent a week in the hospital following that first surgery. Feeding tube up my nose. Tracheostomy to help me breathe. 4 drains. A wound vac. IVs. But you know what? That first day when I woke up from over 24 hours of anesthesia, after they took me off the ventilator and I went to my room, and I was so incredibly scared but happy to be alive…you know what I did? I took a picture, and I put my thumb up, and I tried to smile through the bite block and the massive swelling…because fuck you.

And I healed quickly from surgery. I went to my second surgery like it was simple (because what’s a skin graft compared to massive microvascular and reconstructive surgery?) despite needing an awake nasal intubation and that not being remotely pleasant. Then the pain from that healing, oh man. I wasn’t prepared for that but it went away fairly quickly. And I continued to be brave and strong and heal. And when I went to the dentist and learned I needed 2 wisdom teeth pulled THAT day because of radiation, I stayed calm. And when radiation finally started I was pretty good for about 2 weeks. Then the real fight started. I lost so much weight and became so weak, but I’m still here.

I can only imagine how it feels to be shriveled up and killed by an invisible beam. Whatever was left of you was hopefully obliterated in the 30 times that beam carved through my cells. My healthy cells will mostly return, and I’ll slowly heal from that hell. But you won’t. You are dead to me. With each day I grow stronger and you are just a memory now. A painful reminder of the fragility of life and that nothing is ever promised.

I’ll never forget you, cancer. I will always be reminded by the scars and the way I talk now and how I eat (or can’t eat). I’ll try and try but I’ll always be wary of your return to my body. I’ll always feel even the smallest amount of anxiety when something just doesn’t seem right. I’ll watch over my family like a hawk and make them check into any minor ailment with the intensity of a mama bear because I never, ever want them to know how it feels to know you like I did.

So again, with the most sincere tone, fuck you. I am alive. I am a survivor despite your attempt to kill me. I am physically and mentally scarred and forever changed but I am here. I am rebuilding and will someday soon be the best version of myself because I choose to be so much better than you. I will not let you ruin the life I worked so hard to keep you from stealing. And there are many, many more like me out there. Someday, you will be a distant memory to us all and we will keep on living.

Sincerely,

Stef

Sometime during the weeks of radiation hell I was gifted this awesome hat.
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