Some time in the first week of August I tried to distill everything I’d been thinking about into a letter to my cancer. I posted it as a note on Facebook. The response I had to it was the inspiration for this blog.
Here’s the letter:
I know that when I first heard about you my reaction wasn’t great. I swore at you and became very angry. I was so upset that before 24 hours had passed I’d already dug my own grave and lay down in it. I was so convinced I was going to die that I just gave up.
Then my daughter swore at you. ‘Fuck you cancer’, she said, and I realised what a fool I’d been. Just because you’re busy multiplying cells in my body doesn’t mean I should give up. So I swore at you some more and decided to kick your arse.
That was about three weeks ago.
I’ve had time to think about what you’re doing here. I’ve realised that you come with some important lessons for me.
Suddenly my life is in sharp focus. I’m very clear about what matters to me and what doesn’t. I spend more time cherishing the important people in my life and less time caring about the trivial. Thank you for that.
I’m also noticing how blue the sky can be, how green the trees and the grass are, and how sunlight bounces off everything. My hearing has improved, and I appreciate the sounds of music, birds and laughter more than I ever have.
This heightened awareness has extended to all my senses. I’m astounded by how much more I’m noticing; the way things feel and smell and sound and look. Thank you for that.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to really understand what wonderful friends and family I have. They’ve all been so amazing. They tell me that I’m one of the first people there when they are in trouble and that it’s their pleasure to help me right now. You really do find out who your friends are when times get tough and for that, cancer, I am honestly grateful.
I’ve finally come to understand what ‘positive thinking’ really means and how it’s possible to stay happy and to enjoy life, even with cancer inside your body. It’s not that I haven’t had dark moments but then I put everything in perspective, contemplate all of the things I am grateful for and focus on enjoying today.
You’ve helped me to feel good about about my ability as a parent. Of course, the first thing I thought of when I heard about you was my daughter. How would she cope without me? What advice should I write down now for her, in case I’m not here later? Then it occurred to me that I don’t think there’s anything unsaid between us, or any situation where she couldn’t accurately tell you what I would say about it. I also think she’s strong enough and confident enough to make her own decisions without feeling like she needs to do what I would do. That was my goal when she was little. To raise an adult that was independent, wise, kind and happy. She’s still a young adult but she’s already all of those. I know that whenever I die, she will be sad. Then she will get over it and go on to live a happy life.
You’ve helped me to truly appreciate the depth of my husband’s love for me. From the moment we knew you were there he’s been completely committed to doing everything he can to help me beat you. He’s formidable. You always hope the people close to you will cope well in a crisis but you can’t really know until it happens. Some people let us down. Some people exceed what we thought were unrealistically high expectations. He’s amazing.
I’m also a kinder person since your arrival. I know that I have looked the same as I have always looked since discovering you were inside me. It’s helped me to understand that you really don’t know what people are dealing with just by looking at them. The stranger I chat to at the shops might have just lost someone they love, or found out they have a life threatening disease. You just never know.
I’ve always loved to laugh and now you’ve taught me what a valuable weapon it is when it comes to being well. Of course, there are also clear lessons about everything I do in relation to my body, including the food I eat, what I drink, how much exercise I get and how kind I am to myself. My yoga teacher talks about practicing non-violence in relation to myself. I have a much better understanding of what she’s talking about.
I promise that I will never again complain about growing old. I will welcome my wrinkles, my arthritis, and anything else that old age throws at me because I will be alive.
There’s so much more. Each day brings has brought new wisdom and revelations and for that, I am deeply grateful. I promise that these lessons will stay with me for the rest of my life. I understand. I will not forget.
So feel free to leave. Your work here is done. You can go quietly or you can fight, but you should not underestimate the force that opposes you. Apart from my notorious strength of will I am surrounded by brilliant, talented, loving people who will stop at nothing to defeat you.
Off you go now.
My daughter’s “Fuck you cancer” post became a new acronym. Friends posted comments, shared photos and memes and added “FYC” to the end.
I asked everyone if I should give my cancer a name and we had lot’s of fun with suggestions. The best one came from a beautiful friend in the USA. She told me to call it ‘Gone’.