Sitting in the oncology waiting room is still as stressful as ever. Anytime I'm there, I can see the fear and worry on people's faces. It never fails to remind me of the times when I was so anxious I couldn't breathe. Even though I feel stronger than ever, both mentally and physically, there is still an element of anxiety and fear that cancer might return, but thankfully, I have learned to manage it a little better.
I was fortunate to be told I am still well today, and that is amazing news. I was also told that I will mostly likely have appointments for another decade. The sheer volume of radiation I had during treatment can cause side effects up to 10 years afterward. Having gone through it, this doesn't shock or even worry me today. I suppose I was just slightly disappointed not to be cured or over the remission hump. That's OK, though; I am very equipped to nurture my body, and hearing these hard facts today reinforces the need to be mindful of how I eat, exercise, and manage stress.
Before my last oncology appointment, I wrote a goodbye letter to cancer. I thought I was going to be told I was "cured" or out of remission. Even though I was disappointed to hear that I might not get to say goodbye for 10 years or ever, I would still like to share this letter. It is a reflection of the life lessons I have learned since having cancer and how cancer has given me the strength to thrive.
I am exceptionally fortunate to be able to write this today. Cancer has affected many friends and family over recent years, and I will never take my experience for granted. I dedicate this letter to all those who have lost their lives to cancer and for all those currently fighting to stay well.
You shocked me to the core, twice. I had never felt pain like this before. It was devastatingly heartbreaking, but I stood tall and was prepared to do whatever it took. And here I am, stronger than ever. Today I learned that I might not ever get to say goodbye to you; however, I want to express my gratitude for the many lessons you taught me along the way.
These words of gratitude are not praise for your existence in my life but rather a chance for me to show you that I am stronger today than you ever were.
1. You taught me how to nourish my body.
As a trained nutritionist I understood the science of food, but I never fully understood the power of food until I met you. Since we began our journey together I have become more mindful of how I nourish my body. I am not perfect. I still enjoy treats. However I understand that food really is medicine and that you are what you eat. I believe in food and all that it can do for the body. I believe that the food I ate during my treatment and during recovery gave me the strength to win the battle with you. I trust that continuing to eat well will keep you from returning to my life again.
2. You taught me how to manage the stress in my life.
I used to believe that the harder I worked and the more stressed I became was a sign of success. How very wrong I was. There was so much stress in my life when I was first diagnosed with you that it wouldn't shock me to learn that it was a contributor to the start of our journey. During my treatment I started to learn about mindfulness, meditation, and breathing. It's funny how we turn to these holistic elements when we are clutching at life. These three holistic practices have taught me the power of relaxation and time out to reduce stress. I don't practice these elements as much as I'd like, but they are in my life toolbox for when I need them most. I feel more confident knowing they are available when I need them.
3. You taught me to respect my energy levels.
Some days you stole my energy. I felt lifeless. I had never felt this weak before. As a fit, healthy, sporty woman, it was heartbreaking to feel this frail. But this only made me more determined to exercise even more. On good days I loved walking or cycling in the fresh air. It made me feel alive. It also made me appreciate being outdoors. The blue sky, the birds singing, the fresh air. It's amazing how much more you appreciate the simple things when you think they may be taken away from you. Thank you for showing me a newfound appreciation for the outdoors. Five years on, I still love the outdoors. Walking, hiking, running, cycling: I will never take this for granted again.
4. You taught me the value of time.
I never fully understood the importance of time until you came into existence. I don't just mean idle time; I mean quality time. The quality time I spend with people I love is so invaluable. Listening to people talk, laugh, and argue over silly things is so priceless. Time spent traveling and experiencing new cultures, foods, people, and surroundings. Time spent reflecting on all the positive things in life. Time spent being. Time is so precious, and thanks to you, cancer, I now truly appreciate this wonderful part of my life.
5. You taught me the value of family.
I have always had a great relationship with my family, but you showed me just how close we could be. When it got really tough during my treatment they never left my side. My husband, mum and dad, brothers and sister, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins: I honestly couldn't ask for a better family. I never doubted that my family would be there; however, meeting fellow cancer patients throughout my treatment with little family and support, I felt incredibly lucky for the family and support I had. I wouldn't be here today without them and their neverending support and love.
6. You showed me how valuable my friendships were.
I am very fortunate to have many friends, but the experience I had with you highlighted the true value of friendship. When people would literally do anything to help you, feel helpless that there is nothing they can do but still show up anyway, how do you repay that? During my treatment I felt like the luckiest person on earth. What did I do in life to deserve all these amazing people who were supporting me? Their strength, love, and time will never be forgotten.
7. You showed me how mentally resilient I already was but did not recognize.
On one or two occasions you almost broke me. It was like torture. I remember wanting the world to end. I thought I would never make it through the treatment. I was exhausted from the toxic chemicals running through my veins and the radiation zapping at my tumor. I was exhausted from thinking about the length of the treatment. I was exhausted from worrying about the "what ifs." But I bounced back and proved I was stronger. Living was so important to me, and you weren't going to take that away. It wasn't my time. I had too much I still wanted to do, see, and achieve. I remember thinking that you were not going to take that away from me. Thankfully, it worked. Thankfully, I am here to write this. Thank you for showing me how resilient I am and proving that anything is possible if you believe.
8. You taught me to love my body.
As a 30-something woman I was starting to really value and love my body before you came along. And then you took that all away. I couldn't understand why you would attack such a healthy body. Throughout my treatment though I recognized just how strong my body really was. Even when I felt so weak and frail, my legs still allowed me to walk. I remember thinking how amazing and strong my legs were. During my post-treatment counseling I thanked my legs on numerous occasions for staying strong and giving me hope. Each morning I do yoga and practice gratitude, I thank my body for staying strong and fighting you every inch of the way. Today I love my body for everything it has gone through and all that it is.
9. You taught me the value of positivity.
How can I be negative in life when I have so much? Today I am here. I have time. I have a husband and family who still care for me. I have amazing friends. I can eat well. I can move well. I can travel. You taught me the value of simplicity and positivity, and for that I am forever grateful. I believe that what you give out you get back. I believe that being truly positive will attract positive things in life. You taught me that; thank you.
10. You taught me the value of giving back.
Throughout all the heartbreak, pain, and fear of your existence, I remember saying to my husband, "why am I so lucky?" "Why do I have all this support?" Today as I say goodbye to you, I will forever try and give back. I will do my best to support others who need it most and to give back to friends and family the same support they gave to me. I hope I can help others feel just as lucky as I felt throughout my time with you.
So cancer, after five years of shock, pain, heartbreak, hospital visits, toxins, fear, and worry, I can honestly say that you changed my life. I am a better person today because of you, and for that I will be forever thankful.
Today I am very fortunate. Today I am still here. I believe that you have made your point loud and clear, and now it's time to let you go and continue my wellness journey. With all my heart, I hope we never meet again, but a small part of me will always be thankful that you came into my life.