A letter to my metastatic breast cancer
Dear Lung Spots,
First, I must start off by expressing my hatred for you and the countless ways you’ve impacted my life. You are dreaded, you are awful, you are terrifying, you are insidious. You came upon me completely unexpectedly. Just as I was beginning to feel like I could handle this “whole cancer thing” and everything that the last 7 months had brought me (death of my grandmother on March 30th, diagnosis of cancer just 10 days later, bilateral mastectomy, tissue expander “fills”, beginning hormone therapy, implant placement and tissue expander exchange surgery, beginning Lupron, ending up in the psych unit…) I was toppled by your disgusting presence. I was completely blindsided. I had been running 5 miles a day all the way up to your re-diagnosis in November, totally unaware of your presence until the diagnostic ct scan, after my mastectomy scar presented a mysterious rash; I felt nothing in the way of respiration. In fact, I felt nothing in the way of anything- physically, I felt the healthiest I had ever felt in my entire life.
Today, on March 14th, everything is different because of you. Let’s start with the basics. Because of you, I had to begin aggressive and terrible chemotherapy right away; there was not time to harvest my eggs (nor would the process have been safe for me, since you are estrogen receptor positive, and the process requires shots of estrogen to plump up the eggs). Because of you, child-bearing is no longer possible for me. Because of you, at age 27, I get to experience the glories of menopause-the hot flashes that wake me up in the middle of the night multiple times each night, the mood swings (on top of what I was already working with mood-wise). Because of you, I am in fear for my life, at the mercy of doctors and specialists and researchers and insurance companies. Because of you, I must contemplate my mortality. Because of you, I have no hair, my nails are ridged and bumpy, my energy is a quarter of what it was. My voice, the thing that has always been a part of my identity, is something I do not recognize, thanks to the last 4 months of poisoning, and the consequent lack of estrogen. My clear and focused bell-like top register is non existent- I try to sing and I cough; my voice is weathered and tired. I had to tell the graduate program that I was accepted into that I will not be able to attend at this time. Because of you.
You are a fuck face son of a bitch and I want nothing more than to see you die and squeal in agony. Not only are you a sneaky, disgusting, rotten and vile piece of shit, you are also not understood by oncologists; otherwise, you would be curable, and I wouldn’t have the frequent panic attacks about dying before my parents, before my dog, before ever having a truly healthy loving relationship. I hate you.
And yet, this feels somewhat wrong to me. You are part of me. My own cells. You are not an invader. I cannot simply fractionate myself from you because as far as DNA goes, we are the same. I want to know what happened to you; what your story is. I want to know the beginning of you, when your first rogue cell replicated, what triggered it, and how. I would like to tell you to calm the hell down; that your anxious dividing is tearing me apart both physically (though I don’t have symptoms directly from you, but rather, the treatment you require) and psychologically. What do you need to be calm and quiet, so that I can live a long, healthy, meaningful life, you gigantic asshole?
I will say this: if it hadn’t been for you, I would not have connected with young women like Mackenzie, Lauren, Jen, and other incredible women dealing with their own versions of you. I would not have met the wonderful nurses who took care of me through my chemo treatments-some of whom took care of my grandmother when she was going through her treatment for advanced small cell lung cancer. I would not be invested in the process of learning that I might be a worthwhile person. And sometimes, I do believe that the opportunity to ponder ones death is something we should all do, with or without your presence. If it hadn’t been for you, I would have continued to float on the surface in shallow friendships that did not honor the truth about who I really am. You definitely helped me to weed out the people who were absolutely incapable and clueless in how to be a real friend to someone in tough times. The ones who have remained and the new ones who have appeared are the best people in the whole world and I am so lucky to have them.
It’s this confusing dynamic of both hatred and appreciation that I have for you, and I will continue to try to hold a space for both of those things.
You are very much an unwelcome guest, and I wish you would leave quickly and painlessly.
I am trying to navigate my new life and pick up the pieces of myself that have completely shattered from the last year. I am not the same person that I was a year ago, in any way. Because of you, I have to rebuild myself. Or, because of you, I have the opportunity to rebuild myself. I’m not sure which one is more true, maybe they are equally true.
You are getting your picture taken on March 29th, and it is my most sincere hope and prayer that you are nowhere to be found. I will continue to picture a radiant and healthy emptiness in my lungs in my meditations. No matter what the images reveal, I will continue to make myself healthy and well in all respects. You are a part of my story right now, but you’re not all of it. Don’t get cocky.
I hope this letter is returned to sender. But in the event that it isn’t, know that I am working to starve you by strengthening my whole self.