If you had the chance to say something to a disease that had taken your loved ones, or left you with just months to live, what would you say?
In an incredibly moving and powerful letter to her incurable secondary breast cancer, supporter Lesley Stephen explains that despite everything the disease has taken from her, it will never take her hope.
Dear Breast Cancer,
There’s a few things I want to say to you today which I know you won’t like. I used to wonder why you chose me – random bad luck apparently – and I’ll certainly never forget the day I met you.
March 2014 – almost as an afterthought I mentioned to my GP that I had a cough that wouldn't go away. I was convinced it was asthma. It crossed my mind it might be you, but I dismissed that as ridiculous. I was only in my 40s, and had always looked after myself.
So when the consultant held my hand and confirmed that you were here, and here to stay forever, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. You were a ninja – small, aggressive, stealthy and by then had already taken up residence in my liver, lungs and bones. Since that initial diagnosis you have even managed to sneak into my brain too. I used to joke that you moved faster than Usain Bolt on a good day. I will never be rid of you – you are here to stay, like a very unwelcome squatter – until the end.
Your shocking and unwelcome arrival in my world threw me into a period of profound grief and loss. My face was pressed right up against the glass of my own mortality. I never asked you to come here – why did you pick me? Your presence has turned my family’s life upside down, and forced us to abandon all of our hopes and dreams. I’ll never forget my children’s faces when I told them I had incurable cancer.
I could go on forever about what you've taken from me – my work; my hair; my friends; my confidence; my immune system; but most of all, my future. I now live in three month gulps of time, cramming ‘family memories’ into the anxious times between scans while I’m still well - and the milestones we all take for granted, seeing our children grow up, leave school, have grandchildren and so on, are gone for good. I’ve planned my funeral and made memory boxes for my children so they know who I was.
You have left bits of me emotionally and physically broken that will never be the same again. But you have never taken my hope and you will never take the joy of living from me. You have given me the chance to say a long goodbye to people, and I take nothing for granted now. You have brought me the kindness of strangers (leaving flowers and cakes at the front door), and many new friends.
Last autumn my oncologist said things were looking ‘serious’ because the latest two chemotherapies hadn’t worked. I was in a bad place. My endless cough cracked a rib; I wheezed my way up the stairs to say goodnight to the children, pausing on the landing to catch my breath.
Every time you find a new corner to inhabit, I take a moment to weep and grieve. I want to throw you out, but you just won’t go.
Then the miracle happened. Instead of suffering the horrors of chemo again I am on a clinical trial and take 6 little pills every morning. My drug has no name – it is too early stage for that – but it has reduced you to hiding in a few dark corners of my lungs. Nobody knows how long you will stay there for – I just hope you aren’t gathering strength to fight back.
So where are we now, you and I? I know that your days are numbered and that eventually, science will catch up with you. I’m hanging on by my fingertips waiting for that day.
So do me a favour – just go and don't come back.
Let me live.
Tell us your story
If you’ve been affected by breast cancer and would like to write your own ‘dear breast cancer’ letter, we’d love to hear your story. You can write your letter here.