Eyes Wide Open

by Jessica BrileyDecember 11, 2019View more posts from Jessica Briley

Dear Cancer,

I know we got off to a rocky start in our relationship, I guess that is something that could have been expected, considering our relationship was unlike most. I was busy trying to kill you, while you were busy trying to kill me… it’s a bit hard to get to know someone or something under those circumstances. But there we were, doing what we both do best, surviving.

Now that it’s been almost twenty years later, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the fifteen months that I fought you, battled you, and hated you. The fifteen months you drug me through your hell. You changed me in so many ways. Most days I’m grateful for the change and other days, I slightly resent it. I find myself wondering who I would have been without that change, without you, after all I was only eleven when we met, my life hadn’t even fully started. I was just a child who was thrown into what should have been a grown-up’s world. These boxing gloves felt far too big, but there I was putting them on, lacing them up to the best of my abilities and getting ready for our match.

There I was, eleven years old, suiting up against this enemy I didn’t even know. I knew nothing about you besides the fact that you wanted me dead, and you had already begun to take me down quickly without my acknowledgment. Therefore, the first thing I learned about you was that you played dirty, you fought an unfair match. You came into my life so quickly and abruptly, almost like Mother Nature when she is mad and on the loose. No signs, no warnings, no nothing. Anything and everything in her path can and will be destroyed… that was you. You were on a mission and I was standing firmly in your way…you were not happy.

Here I was, standing on this unfamiliar turf, completely and utterly ready for war. I had always been a peacemaker and a peaceful person. I never liked conflict or drama, I avoided it at any and all cost. I especially did not like war. I never understood why people could not get along and learn to live together. You came into my life and showed me exactly why. There I was, this just barely turned eleven-years-old, suiting up for war. I was mad, completely livid and absolutely enraged. You were slowly taking things from me that were mine and only mine, they were never yours for the taking. You were slowly building your home in me when that home was never vacant. I quickly found myself putting on my war paint and bellowing my battle cry. I needed you dead and I without a doubt did not care to what extent I had to go to rid of you. I wanted you dead at all cost. No matter how many times they had to open me up, how much poison was pushed down my veins, how many tubes I had hanging from my body, or how radioactive I had to become. I wanted you dead even if it meant almost killing myself, even at eleven years old. You were going to die one way or another, with or without me. This was a side of me, that you showed me, I never knew existed and for that I’m grateful. I now know what I am capable of and how much I can withstand. Like a willow in a hurricane, my roots are strong and deep, I only have you to thank for that.

Then, there was the aftermath. The after of you. I honestly thought my battle with you was the worst it could have gotten. I was wrong, I was so wrong. Rebuilding myself after you, at almost thirteen years old, was absolutely brutal. That alone was devastating all in itself. Coming back from the almost dead is a scary and incredibly hard thing. There were times I questioned my survival and why I didn’t just let you take me.

My life would never be the same in wake of your aftermath. You destroyed me… we destroyed each other, in the most horribly, painfully destructive way and I was the one paying for it on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. You had been set free, but I was not. I was now trapped in this body that no longer worked the way it once did. I was trapped in a living and ongoing hell. Here I was at almost thirteen years old, realizing that my life would never be the same. Realizing that I would never meet society’s definition of “normal”, not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

There had been too much damage. But it was worth it, right? Worth the PTSD, worth the night terrors, the flash backs, and being haunted by the memory of you most days? Was it worth the pain that shot through my body at times? Like thousands of fireworks shooting off at once. Were you worth the anxiety and depression and not being able to get out of bed? Were you worth the panic attacks? The ones that stormed my life in an instant and left me curled up on the floor just trying to somehow breathe. Were you really worth not being able to open and use my mouth properly? Worth the daily struggle of eating and even brushing my teeth? Was the death of you worth all of this and so much more? Were you really worth me trying to claw my way up from the almost dead?

You were worth it. It might not have seemed like it at the time, but as time rolled on like the fleeting of summer and the folding of winter, you became worth the daily struggles. You were worth the cancer family I gained. You were worth the lifelong friends I would make. You were worth the knowledge I had attained. You were worth the place I would soon call my second home and all of the kids I would come to help later on in life. You had plans for me that I couldn’t clearly see until much later. I thank you for that. I thank you for giving me the tools I needed to turn around and help others. I thank you for allowing me to be a beacon of hope in the mist of another’s fog. Thank you for allowing me to be lighthouse that helps guide them to their destination, rather it be this life or the next. Thank you for allowing me to somehow bring peace and comfort to many. Thank you for showing me the true definition of having grace for one’s self, because let’s face it, some days are hard, like so unbelievably hard. There’s no way I would be able to overcome those days without grace for myself. You taught me this valuable lesson in the most brutal of ways and I thank you for that. Thank you for showing me how bullheaded I can be and set in my ways I have become. This has carried me further than I could have ever imagined.

Thank you for taking my world and capsizing it in the worst way possible. Thank you for sinking my peaceful ship. Thank you for almost drowning me. Thank you for the near-death experience, just so I could truly see how beautiful this life really is. Thank you for opening my eyes up to the most beautiful and simplest of things. Like the way the morning dew hugs the grass like a warm embrace. The way the sun sets and rises each day, no matter how bad the day has been. There’s always that gentle reminder of a new tomorrow and how it is never fully promised. Thank you for allowing me to truly taste the coffee and smell the roses.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to become the mom, I otherwise would not have been. I like to think she is a much more understanding mom. One who teaches her girls valuable lessons about life, struggles, how little time we actually have and how that time is absolutely precious. One who has showed them firsthand that everyone has a story and to never judge anyone, since you never know the miles someone has walked to get to where they are today.

You shaped me into the person I am today, this person who sees how beautiful, short and fragile life truly is. I’m sorry you had to die in the worst way possible. I’m sorry I couldn’t have held space for you, it was completely impossible. Just know, part of me died right along with you, a huge part of me. Your death was not in vain and you did not die alone. I carry you with me each and every day, which at times, is a really hard and heavy load to carry.

I want you to know that from the deepest parts of my heart, I sincerely thank you.

 


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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