Dear Cancer…

I know that letters usually start off with a greeting, or at least, a “Hi, how are you?”, but I know how you have been. You have been busy. Too busy. You seem to be burning the candle at both ends, which isn’t good for anyone. Why don’t you slow down, take a long vacation, maybe even retire early. There are so many beautiful places on this earth that are uninhabited by humans, why don’t you go there? Put up your feet, and rest with an umbrella drink at your side. Or at least, don’t bother coming here. I will forgive you for never darkening my doorstep, for never tasting my cooking, for never finding rest in my home.

I know that you and I go way back. That you have been close to my family since before I was born. I saw how you came to stay with great aunts and uncles, when I was a child and didn’t understand who you are. Quickly, I learned that just the mention of your name means that adults cry and shake their heads, and that children pretend to keep playing, so they can hear what is going on, without being sent to their rooms.

It was the year that I turned 16, when in a two week span, both my father and grandfather were given your name as their diagnosis. Two years later, I would graduate high school without the man in the audience who had promised to be there. You took from me the most special of persons, my grandpa. The man who’s blue eyes sparkled and would tear as he told a joke, or when something touched his generous, southern heart. The man who tugged my braids and called me Pocahontas, and made me want to wear my hair that way forever.

You left my father, after surgeons deftly separated you from him. He was there, at my graduations, my wedding, and still is.

But two years ago, you stole from me again. You took my grandma, like the most ungracious of dance partners, never letting hope cut in. You twirled her through breast cancer, and dipped her too low. You slowly waltzed her across brain cancer’s marbled ballroom floor. Though dizzy, she rebelled against your rhythms, and moved to her own beat, swaying gracefully, until two weeks before Christmas, when the band stopped. Then life as I knew it, stopped, and we had to figure out what our family is, again.

My doctor recently informed me that I am at a higher risk than most, for having you in my life. I wanted to scream, that, no, that is not possible, because my family has already met the quota. We have given uncles and aunts, mothers and fathers, siblings, and friends. You couldn’t possibly still be hungry, after you have consumed all the lives that they still had left to live. But just in case, you are sitting there with google maps, planning out your route, let me try and save you the trip.

There is too much at stake for me to leave this planet early. There are five sweet babies asleep upstairs who only know me as Mommy. There is a boy, age 10, just on the cusp of becoming a man. He is sweet and sensitive, and careful with the hearts of others. But he is still learning how much he is loved. He has the blue eyes and middle name of the great-grandfather he never got to meet. He is kind, and funny, and still innocent enough to tear up when he misses him Mommy. He changes what he wants to become on a weekly basis, and I need to be there to see what he chooses. I need to yell from the stands, my awkwardly loud support for his choices. His darkest days are mostly all ahead, and someone will need to be a soft place for him to land.

The four girls have each other, but of course, in very real ways still need their mother. They are growing so fast, and taking everything much too personally. They need someone there to see their truth, and remind them of who they are, in those times that they forget. They need cuddles and encouragement, kindness and modeled strength.

One of them wants to be a gymnast, then a doctor and a mom when she grows up. She is fierce, athletic, and brave. She speaks her mind, reminds me of myself, and tries to hide the fact that she gets afraid. This child feels like redemption to me. Like I am on this earth to love her in the ways that I needed as a child, and didn’t always get.

Her twin wants to be a ballerina. She is tall and willowy, with feet that barely touch the ground when she walks. She is artistic, smart, and loves to create. She wants to own an ice cream shop so that she can make everyone happy, while having a job that she can take her children to. She thinks and feels deeply, and needs her mommy to help build her up, when her 7 year old emotions are crumbling from within.

There are two more of them, a two year old and a four year old, who round out our family. The four year old has more determination than most fully grown men. She is brilliant and intense. She is charming and has eyes that belong on a Disney ingénue. She hugs me so tightly that she often pops my neck. She will need a guide for wading through deeper waters than she has ever been in, and I want so badly to help sail that ship.

The two year old has dimples, concave perfection, on unblemished skin. She has a deep, thick voice, through which laughter comes easily. She loves babies and dancing, and every kind of food. She loves baths and bedtime stories, and sings Row Your Boat on command. She is lovely, and cuddly, and filled with joy. She has not been on this earth long enough to realize that some Mommies leave and don’t come back. I love her too much to let her life be a question, filled with what-ifs.

I know that some people are glad for your visit. That after you leave they feel reborn and grateful. But, I already see what I have. I don’t need tragedy to make sure that I make the most of my time. I am acutely aware of every day that I cash in. I am truly thankful for these abundant gifts. Please, RSVP as No, and don’t come crashing in.

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