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An Open Letter to My Newly Diagnosed Self

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Article

Looking back, here’s what I would tell myself shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

You’ve just been diagnosed, and “cancer” seems to be the wallpaper of every room you enter. Treatments, discussions, opinions, and decisions are overwheming. On top of all that is the frightening thought, “Cancer has taken me over.. this is now my life.” After all, it is on your mind 24/7, and everyone you see asks you about it. It’s the first thing you think about on waking and it’s the thought you struggle against when it’s time to sleep.

Of course it’s overwhelming, but let me assure you, this intense time of coming to grips with your diagnosis will not last forever, As frightening as it may be, it will pass. At some point, you will be finished with treatment and you may think, “but I can’t be ‘done’” —and then you may fear, “now that I’m not being treated, will it come back soon?” These fears are normal, so don’t beat yourself up, but be assured that they, too, will subside. As you rebuild strength and appreciation for daily little miracles — connection with others, the beauty of nature —there will come a time when you’ll go to bed with the amazing realization: “I haven’t even thought about cancer today.” You’ll have been too busy living all day to spend your precious energy on worry and fear..

Gather around you people who bring you love and joy, who don’t let their own fears or discomfort bring you down. Some friends or loved ones will disappoint; they don’t mean to, but rather than wishing they’d change, focus on relationships that nurture.

You are free to say “no” to things you don’t really want to do, and to say “yes” to paths you may not have considered. Take this as a gift,

Take also as a gift the flexibility that cancer demands. Make plans to socialize or have new experiences — absolutely, it’s always good to have something to look forward to, so don’t let cancer stop you from making those plans. But if your body isn’t cooperative that day, know it is perfectly OK to cancel or postpone, let it go, and appreciate a quiet day at home. Many other opportunities will appear.

Know that sometimes a headache is just a headache, congestion is just a cold, and aches and pains may simply mean you’ve overexerted. Inform your doctor if symptoms persist, but don’t assume the worst.

Cancer may slow you down for a while, but in the process, it may also prepare you to take new directions in life. This is another gift.

You will find joy in unexpected places. Who knew that you could laugh with another patient in an infusion center, or come to delight in an oncology appointment because your doctor is someone you’ve grown to love?

As hard as it may be to grasp right now, know that cancer is not you. It is not your whole life and you don’t need to let it overtake your every waking thought. Fearing what may happen tomorrow robs you of enjoying today. Please be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your fears and uncertainties, and cut yourself slack for having them, but then gently put them aside so you can enjoy as many moments as possible in the day before you. All any of us can be certain of is this moment in this day we are living. And whether or not this moment is joyful or sad, it, too, will pass.

I’m telling you this from the future. It’s been fifteen years since my diagnosis, and they’ve been full of wonderful experiences I could not have imagined on that first terrifying day. Although older, I’m in better shape, more relaxed and happier than I was the day before cancer entered my life. I’ve traveled far and wide, written a novel, deepened relationships with family and longtime friends and made new friends along the way. I’ve learned to love myself better, as I now look back and love you.


This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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