My Hateful Grateful Letter to Chemotherapy

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Dear chemotherapy,

Tomorrow, my family is breaking up with you. Well, really, my Mom’s the one holding the scissors. But nonetheless, we will be right behind her; just as excited as she is to cut ties.

What can I say? You haven’t really given me the best five months of my life, but maybe they’ve been the most memorable. First things first: you have saved my Mom’s life. You’ve somehow given me the undefinable hope and sense of faith that I am one of the blessed daughters to have her Mother walk through life with her. The alternative is ugly, and quite honestly, something I would never want to face. And because of you, I don’t have to. The prognosis is far too optimistic for me to worry about any of that. For this reason, I am eternally in your debt. I could find the world’s most effective way of saying thank you, perform it a thousand times over, and still, it wouldn’t suffice. I get my Mom. Day in and day out. Reminding me that it’s okay to be hung-over in my 20’s, but making sure I get it together by my 30’s; all the while loving me for who I am, and reminding me to be proud of that. As it should be. Thank you.

On the reverse, you really suck. For lack of a better word, you really, really suck. Being a girl in my 20’s, I’ve been of witness to some seriously horrendous hangovers. Some of which I may or may not pull from my own portfolio of embarrassment. But none of them, not even all of them combined, equate to the amount of sickness, pain, and suffering that you and your pals brought to my Mother’s body the past five months. It’s like watching your best friend try to keep afloat in the middle of a perfect storm, and there’s no lifeboat. The only thing you can do is encourage her to keep swimming. It is the worst, most helpless feeling in the world, and even the most positive of Polly’s have their moments of doubt. I spent Thanksgiving wondering if the smell of Turkey was making her sick. I worried the weeks leading up to Christmas that she would find the strength to wrap presents. One of her most favorite things to do. I skipped the perfume in my morning routine for fear the smell would get to her. I held my breath every time I climbed the stairs to our living room knowing that she would appear different to me every day. I watched her lose her hair. I watched her through the lows. I watched her push through the fear.

They say when someone has cancer; their family has cancer, too. Well, that could not be truer for my family. Especially my Father. The man could not have a more pure, more loyal, sturdy, devoted heart. I have never seen another person more selfless in a situation. If my brother and I wouldn’t remind him, he would skip meals for fear that the smell would make her sick. He’s skipped hockey games, work outings, golf tournaments, and everything in between because he would rather be with her. His girl. And not in the guilty, obligatory, this-is-my-vow sense, no. It is entirely because that is where he would rather be. By her side; chemo or no chemo. So while I might thank you for showing me, time after time, how incredibly lucky I am to have such a strong marital foundation; I’d also really enjoy punching you in the face. Hypothetically speaking, chemo, if you had a face, for putting them through this. Both of them. Lots of punching.

In any good break-up letter, however, I should remind you of all the good you brought to our lives throughout our time together. Because regardless of all the life-sucking, nauseating, and helplessness you created; you brought our family closer. Because of you, Christmas meant more. We decorated our tree, for no other reason but to be together. We didn’t pay attention to what the tinsel looked like, but laughed as we threw it on. We appreciated every moment of healthy smiles. The vulnerability, in turn, gave us a mutual motive to be there for each other. Cancer became our enemy and we had all of sudden become the world’s strongest soldiers. In the weirdest possible way, you gave us that closeness. You pushed us into the kind of love we never knew was inside us, and maybe it was worth the pain. I’m not saying I’d ever like to see you again, but I can’t really hate you for that.

I guess my point, is that I’m not all that sorry to see you go. Not even a little. I definitely won’t miss you, because I get my Mom’s smile back. But because of you, I am more than hopeful that I will get that smile back for a very long time. I won’t miss you, but I am grateful for you.

In a way, we won’t really know when you’re officially gone; when the last of you has made your way through my Mom’s body. Maybe it will be when her hair starts coming in. Maybe one day she will just wake up, and feel like herself again. I’m sure chemo patients around the world would all have a different answer for that. But I think for us, you will never really be gone. Thankfully, the sickness, aches, and pain will subside; but the love, strength, and life that you pumped into our family with every infusion, I believe, has left a permanent mark on our hearts. Like any life-changing relationship, we will bounce back from this, but we will never, ever be the same.

So this is it then. Tomorrow we bid our dues. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few choice words to finish this off, but I can hear my Mom saying “Keep it classy, Veronica.” So fine. But I will say, you still suck. I would still punch you. And thank you. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you.


3 Replies to “My Hateful Grateful Letter to Chemotherapy”

  1. Beautiful, Veronica, absolutely beautiful. You have very eloquently and passionately expressed what so many of us have felt when loved ones have cancer. We actually developed a mantra, “Boring is best! during our sister Joyce’s struggle. It meant we had an ordinary day with no surprises, no heartaches, no pain. I wish only the most boring of days to you and Sue and Tom and Doris and everyone in your family. And may those boring days stretch on for years and years and years. My love to all of you. My prayers are with you daily. Fern Mann


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