A Letter to a Friend With Cancer, From a 30-Year Survivor

A Letter to a Friend With Cancer, From a 30-Year Survivor

This is the start of a journey you never expected to take. And believe me, it will be the journey of a lifetime.

To my dear friend, just embarking on this adventure,

So, you just got THE NEWS. I feel for you in ways only someone who has “been there, done that” can understand. This is the start of a journey you never expected to take. And believe me, it will be the journey of a lifetime, with its ups and downs and everything in between. 

First and foremost, please know I don’t have all the answers. There truly is no “right” way to be sick. I’m sending you my love and also some wisdom I learned along the way, but we all have our own path, and trust that you will find yours. What was right for me may be completely off-base for you.  Know that you will try on many new ways of being, many new identities along your journey. Keep what fits and discard the rest. 

Also, if I say stupid things I really don’t mean, forgive me. Believe that I am trying to support you, but sometimes have no idea how. It is hard for me too, watching you go through your illness and your treatment and not being able to make it all go away. Go ahead and tell me to shut up if I am irritating you! You’ll be better for it, and I will still be there. Always. 

People may say to you that you are “so strong” for going through what you are going through. Even “inspirational.” But there will be days that you feel far from that. Trust me, it is OK to not be OK. Also know that it’s better to express these feelings of frustration than stuffing them deep inside.  There is no such thing as “negative emotions.” They are all just emotions. They are all good, and expressing your sadness, fear, or confusion doesn’t make you weak. It makes you real. Think about all you are dealing with—I mean, really??? Give yourself a break and don’t forget to look back along your journey to see how far you have come.

There will be times you feel alone in dealing with all that life is throwing at you.  But you know what? You are not alone. More often than not, people will be amazing if you let them in. Let them be there for you. Talk to them.  Reach out to others going through something similar. There are likely many people out there who want to help you, so let them. This may feel unnatural at first and require you to stretch a little, but believe me, being vulnerable and accepting help is a lifelong skill!

Know that after your treatment journey there will be another journey—one of survivorship.  I’m not going to lie — it may be hard to get back to your “old self.” Cancer changes you. But is change always a bad thing? I think not! The transition back to “normal life” may not be as straightforward as it may seem to you right now. It is more likely you will re-emerge to a “new normal” with new and difficult wisdom. At first, you may not even know who you want to become. And you know what? That is totally OK! I bet you there is no cancer survivor out there who finishes treatment and just “arrives” at where they want to be. Self-exploration is a good thing. Thinking about what makes you, YOU, and who you are, and who you want to become is part of the journey. 

It may take some doing to incorporate your journey into who you are in order to move forward and beyond. But please remember, it takes time.  You are worth investing in. Take all the time that you need—you have the rest of your life. Oh, and don’t be afraid to share your new wisdom. It may take time for people to understand the changes in you or your world view, but let them be confused! It is more important to be the real you, today and every day.  Let others evolve into a new understanding of who you are, or even better, help them understand. No one is going to put yourself out there for you, except you. Be real; give others something to relate to. It draws them in.

I respect you will have your own journey. Even if I am not always  physically present, I am there for you, especially through the rough times.  Take good care or yourself through this adventure.

Your friend always,