Practical advice and personal wisdom from a four-time cancer survivor.

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Dear Beth,

I heard you were just diagnosed and wanted to write you a letter. I remember feeling so lost and alone after my diagnosis.

You are probably freaking out right now. Panic, fear, grief. It’s overwhelming.

The moment the doctor said “cancer” everything changed.

The grocery store clerks mutters a casual “how are you?” and you want to shriek in their face, “I HAVE CANCER THAT’S HOW I’M DOING. I’M LOSING MY MIND. DEBIT OR CREDIT, REALLY? MORE LIKE LIFE OR DEATH!”

But you don’t. You grimace and say “fine” and finish your transaction.

Your friend calls to hear how you’re doing. You give a few details and trail off. She senses the uncomfortable lull and begins chatting about work. You want to cry out, “I’M SO JEALOUS. I WANT TO HAVE SOMETHING MUNDANE TO TALK ABOUT!!!!!

But you don’t. You stifle your envy, thank her profusely for calling and hang up.

People at work say how sorry they are. Others look away when you walk down the hall. You want to grab their arm and shout, “IT’S NOT CONTAGIOUS!! I’M NOT INVISIBLE – LOOOOOOK ATTTTTT MEEEEE!!!!!”

But you don’t. You walk to the bathroom, sit in the stall and stare at the door. What is happening, what is happening to me. WHAT. IS. HAPPENING. TO. ME.

You’re now unfortunately part of a secret society in CancerLand. Trying to do “real life” while also scheduling doctor appointments feels impossible. Finding out the details is excruciating: What stage? The prognosis? Treatment options? Do I have to have surgery? What is the recovery? Do I need chemotherapy? How much time off work will I need to take? Will I be able to care for my kids? Does my insurance cover all of this?

WILL I DIE?

WILL I DIE?

WILL I DIE?

WILL I DIE?

It fucking sucks.

I wish I could make it go away for you. I’d fly around as the Anti-Cancer Fairy, wave my magic wand and make it disappear for everyone. You’d wake up the next morning and think “Whew I had a horrible nightmare last night.” Shake your head, make your coffee and think damn, glad that wasn’t real.

I can’t do that. But I can do something else. I can give you the more positive spin on what’s happening. So often, doctors give worst case scenarios due to liability issues. It’s astounding how depressing doctor appointments can be after a cancer diagnosis. I would counter them with phone calls to upbeat survivors and visit my acupuncturist just to hear all his spectacular survival stories (I still do this).

A cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean certain death anymore. Not at all. In 2014, there were 14 MILLION SURVIVORS. That’s a lot of surviving going on.

I meet many survivors that were Stage 4, given 5% chance and are alive 10, 15, even 30 years later (I will be interviewing them here later).

I WANT YOU TO HAVE THIS IN YOUR MIND THROUGHOUT YOUR CANCER EXPERIENCE. I want you to keep a vision of yourself with hair again, happy, healthy, doing great. Create your mantra. I’m going make it through. I’m going to live a long time. I’m going to be AWE-SOME when I’m done with all of this. Whatever works for you. Can be silly, something profound, whatever feels good to YOU.FullSizeRender (1)

I know it’s so so SO hard to “stay positive” when you’re feeling scared and sad. I’m not saying it’s easy. That’s where the notes and phone calls to survivor friends come in. They hold us up through the dark periods.

I have a card on my whiteboard that I can see from bed that says “YOU GOT THIS” and I wrote NEVER GIVE UP. 

Some days, I’ve been super depressed, laying in bed. And my eyes fall on the NEVER GIVE UP message my more upbeat self wrote for my sad self. And I’m reminded of my strength. I don’t know why but the notes work. They just do.

I also came up with my mantra while posting on Facebook which I still use:

I CAN DO THIS.

You can too.

You CAN DO THIS.

I’m with you. You’re not alone.

Fight on.

Much love, Jules

  • Cancer Teacher
    Hi there, my name is Julie. I’m a nutritionist that’s had four cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. Cancer can be horrific, painful, life-stealing. It can also be transformative, mind-opening and life-affirming. I’m working hard to get strong and find the silver lining lessons during this shit storm experience. Stay tuned to find out what I've learned, and continue to learn, from Cancer Teacher.

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher