As I perused my journals, I came across a letter written in what seems like a lifetime ago, yet the words stand true. The photograph was taken by my husband, who shared this beautiful sunset with me, oh so many moons gone by.
My Dear Angel,
So much happened in such a short period of time, and I can’t seem to write as fast as the thoughts tumble from my mind. Just knowing that you are there to listen to my ramblings and my fears, well, it’s like you’re an angel that was sent here just for me. For my heart and for my health.
My health remains unchanged, or perhaps “stable” is the word that I should use to describe this space in which I sit. I’m not entirely certain what stable means because the word is owned by the physicians. My tests show no sign of the cancer growing, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s lurking under a rib, in a cell tucked deep within my body, or floating somewhere in my brain. Then one day I will have to look into their face, solemn that it may be, and hear that although it’s most unfortunate, your cancer has spread. We have many drugs, they will be quite quick to add, so don’t you worry. As they speak their speak, I see myself sitting on the exam table, hearing from within a deep, dark tunnel in my brain, the crinkle of the protective paper as I move in to understand. The words lose their meaning at this point, and all I hear is the blood rushing through my heart to my ears. Please understand Angel, that I don’t mean to be hard on them. They have been caring in my fight to stay alive–it’s just sometimes the white lab coats are a barrier to mutual understanding.
To be understood, to acknowledged; isn’t this what we all want and need? I have an irrepressible need to grab a bullhorn, plant myself on top of the nearest hill and then–right after I clear my throat–begin to speak my peace.
“Um, people, may I have your attention for just one moment? I need to say a few words, some which may sound offensive.”
Hold on for a heartbeat. That’s one direction that I want to steer clear of–apologizing before the words come out of my mouth. So I’m still on top of the hill, but it seems as though I’m straying from my purpose.
“Which is,” I hear you ask, hand impatiently balancing on your hip, “what exactly?” Here is where your patience is needed, please. I struggle to get the jumble of words out of my heart and out of my head.
This past weekend I returned from a funeral of a second family member who recently passed from cancer. Within two weeks so much was said to me that, well, quite frankly, I’m full of anger and don’t know which way to walk. The death of two incredible men head the top of my anger list, but the comments, those misplaced albeit well-meaning comments, are second and have me fuming. So, my angel, my friend, I beg your patience as I attempt to write these words.
Stating what I need seems to be the best way to begin this next chapter of my life. So, hang onto those lovely white wings of yours, back to my hilltop I go.
I need to be listened to. To be angry without judgment from others or myself. I need to have the freedom to tell them to stop talking, that I can hear no more. I need compassion without pity. I need to express my fears of having watched two people in my life die of cancer without hearing that I’m not going to die that way. Because can they actually promise me this? I think not. I need to cry without being fixed. I need to be okay with walking away from their conversation. I want to let go of the need to defend myself. I need to not pretend that everything is going to be okay. I need to be human. I need to express anger and tell someone that their words aren’t appropriate without judging myself or worrying about how I will appear to them. I need to be able to express myself honestly. I need a hug. I need nothing. I need to be heard without being a victim.
I am not a hero. I’m an ordinary person living my life.
I need to stop here, my angel. The rush of words has energized and exhausted me simultaneously.
Linda Carey is the co-creator of The Tutu Project and President of the Carey Foundation. She has been living with Metastatic Breast Cancer for fifteen years and is an advocate for the breast cancer community.