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Ann's dear cancer letter

Dear Cancer: I am no longer afraid

'Three years ago, you made a shocking appearance in my life. I can't pretend that you are going to like what I have to say, but I have to get it off my chest.' Three years after she was diagnosed, Ann confronts breast cancer and reflects on what it has meant to her.

Dear Cancer

I've been meaning to write to you for a while. Three years ago you made a shocking appearance in my life. I can't pretend that you are going to like what I have to say, but I have to get it off my chest – the very place where you sprang up uninvited.

You chose to invade my left breast. Not just any place, but one so close to my heart. The place where I nursed my daughter. The place onto which I latch my own identity as a woman, a wife, a mother, a lover. I'm still grieving the loss of that mound of self-definition, re-shifting and reshaping this reconstructed life.

How can I know if you’ve gone?

Image of Ann in treatment

The hardest part is that no one can tell me that it's over. Have you gone for good or are you lurking, hiding out in some fertile corner, ready to spread your seed and take route in my body like you so successfully invaded my psyche? Stephen Hawking talked about 'remembering the future'. Because of you, I know what this phrase could mean.

You confronted me with my mortality

Most people my age don't give too much thought to how they might die. They remember the past and make plans for the future, but don't dwell on their own mortality. For the most part, we are a species that lives in denial about this fact. A cancer diagnosis changes all that.

Most of the time I get on with life in the present tense – I overcome the anxiety. But every now and then I remember that I may have a future with you in it, an untimely death. I remember the threat that lies ahead, like having flashbacks to some trauma that hasn't happened yet.

I’m no longer angry

I would tell you I am angry with you but I am beyond that stage. I was angry, and sad and fearful. But time has softened those feelings and slowly, bit by bit, I have been able to accept your part in my life.

In all likelihood, you were removed nearly three years ago. Treatment followed on, and then the real work of living and loving, striving and thriving began again. Making the days count, using my skills, giving what I can to the world.

Should you choose to return, I want you to know that this time I am no longer afraid. Because I have learnt to accept that over you I have relatively little control. I accept, come what may.

I am so much more than ‘cancer’

Image of Ann with daughter

I want you to know that you have less and less control over the essence of me, over all those parts that are more than my body parts: my mind, my spirit, my character, my wisdom, my joy, my love, my creativity.

You have forced me to take stock, bringing into sharp focus what really matters. Because of you, I have gained insight, resilience, strength. So I ask myself these questions: Can I forgive you? Can I choose to embrace what was, what is and what will be? Despite, or perhaps because, of you, I think I can.

Support for you

There's no right or wrong way to feel after a breast cancer diagnosis. Your emotions might change day to day, or hour to hour. We're here for you every step of the way.

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