Dear Cancer...

Dear Cancer,

In two years, you have changed who I am completely. Actually, you did it with one phone call. My body is no longer the same. My spirit has changed and once again, the trajectory of my future has shifted. Although my medical team did all that they could do remove you from my body... the ghost of your existence remains in my heart. You have changed me.

In some ways I thank you. You removed some of my remaining naivete and replaced it with a maturity and an empathy I have never known. You gave me reasons to be strong that I didn't have before. You introduced me to people and allowed me to make friends with people that I may not have otherwise known. You have placed me in situations where telling my story to someone helped to save their life because it woke them up to the possibility of your existence.

But in many other ways, I despise you. When I think of people who have fought you multiple times and each time they beat you, you come back in a different way, attacking their body in a different place... I hate you. When I hear stories of relationships that you destroyed, I get angry. You are cruel in that you attack without deference to age, race, culture. There is no way to run from you.

I think of you everyday because there is always a reminder that you invaded my body, wrecked havoc in my personal life and scared my friends and family with your presence. When I get dressed and I look down at my new breasts, I think of you. When I'm trying to sleep and I roll over on my arm that is now swollen with lymphedema -- and I realize that I have to shift positions so that I don't further aggravate it -- I think of you. When the mail comes and its another bill that I don't know how to pay, I think of you. When the phone rings and its another appointment, I think of you.

But you taught me lessons that I needed to learn, like how to stand up for myself. I thought I knew how to do that... and then I learned that sometimes the answers aren't as simple as a choice between yes and no. Sometimes the answers are simply risks with variable degrees of effectiveness. I was faced with the choice between losing one breast because of cancer... or removing both breasts to try to prevent your return. I never would have believed that I would be strong enough to make a choice that difficult and stick to my guns, but I was. You are a vile beast, a squatter who takes up residence where you're not welcomed and unwanted. I kept my breast because I honestly dare you to come back. I dare you!

You taught me that no matter how much of a good person you are, sometimes life just isn't fair. You taught me to roll with the punches and keep getting up. You taught me to have faith when it seemed like the sun wasn't going to shine again. You taught me that this is my body, I have to love it. I have to take care of it. I have to treat it well. Because without my good health, nothing else matters much.

So, dear cancer, I am so very grateful that you are gone from my body. And I look forward to the day when you are no longer a threat to anyone anywhere. I now know how it feels to watch helplessly as someone you love struggles with this disease and I know what it feels like to be the person struggling to defeat you. Neither side is good. It is my prayer that you go away and never ever come back.

This is my break-up letter to you, breast cancer.

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