Stage IV Reflection: A Letter to Myself as an Early-Stager
Dear Stage II Danielle,
I know you have breast cancer and you're freaking out, but don't be! You will be okay. The next few months will be hard, but take a deep breath, and handle it with grace. Accept help when it's offered, and don't be afraid to ask for more when you need it. The treatment will be hard, but it will work! You will lose your hair, but it will grow back. Allow yourself to rest when you are tired. The kids are fine, the baby is fine. Your husband can make his own dinner. Laundry can remain unfolded, toys can stay on the floor. This is a time to focus on you.
Be sure to have a good medical team. If something feels off, it is. Trust your instincts. Be your own advocate. Don't ever forget that no one will ever fight harder for your life than you! Find the team that makes you have hope, confidence, and trust. If you don't feel those things, find a new team. Don't apologize for speaking up, for asking questions. You should never feel guilty for wanting to know about surgeries and medicines that will alter your body. Learn about your type of cancer. Talk to experts. Talk to others living with cancer. Knowledge is power. Empower yourself!
When you get to remission, enjoy every minute of it! I cannot stress this enough. Do not waste a single moment worrying about cancer coming back. Hike all the hikes. Take all the trips. Photograph whatever silly things make your heart happy. Reconnect with old friends, and make new ones. Honor relationships. Weed out toxicity. Live your best life for you, on your terms. Don't ever let anyone invalidate your feelings or your experiences ever again. Fight for what you believe it. Learn when to hold on, and when to let go. Cherish every piece of goodness that comes your way.
I hate to say this to you, but the cancer is going to return, as stage IV. It will ebb and flow, come and go. Linger and persist. It will take turns permeating your lungs, lymph nodes, bones, and brain. The constant treatment will make you tired. But! You will still have good days ahead. Many of them! Do not squander your time, or allow others to. You can still explore the forests, the mountains, still swim in the sea, dance, write! Please do it on the days you can. You will see some days when your legs will be too sore to walk, head too heavy to write, lungs too weak to speak. Rest then. Know you will recover. Take care of yourself. Your good days aren't over, but there will not be as many as there used to be. So when you have them, don't let them slip away! Yes, you do have an incurable disease. But it is a treatable one. Treat it as best as you can, for as long as you can. You are not dead yet! You still have a lot of living left to do.
It will be hard living as a forever cancer patient, but you can do hard things! Seek out others like you. Find your village. So many people, with and without cancer, want to support you. Never forget you are not alone. Living this life may require many hard goodbyes. It could include your career, relationships, home, and hair, just to name a few. A lot of things. Don't worry, though, because other things will fill their void. Oftentimes what replaces them is even better! Have faith. Learn how to adapt to this new life. Maybe you can't hike all the hikes anymore, but you can hike some. Perhaps you can't cook a full Thanksgiving dinner anymore, but you can still whip up your famous sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie! Apply that idea to your entire metastatic experience. Please don't give up on the things you love just because they aren't exactly what you could once do. You aren't that person anymore, and can't be disappointed in yourself for your limitations. Adapt. Modify. Make it work for who you are now. You are still capable of so much! Remember that.
You are going to come such a long way between your first diagnosis and now, with many hard days in between. But you know what? You will survive every single one of them. I promise you will. Love yourself, and live the life you always wanted to live. The time is now!
Much love, stage IV Danielle
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