A Letter to my nineteen-year-old self
Posted on May 2, 2019
You don’t know this now, but I wish I could tell you
Today is May 2, 1985. This morning a bag full of what looks like thick, bright red blood is being infused into your system. You don’t know this now, but you are receiving what you will one day come to recognize as your “lifesaving bone marrow transplant.” The air is filled with equal parts doubt and hope. You didn’t have a perfect match with any of your siblings, so this will be the Mayo Clinic’s first attempt at a half-match bone marrow transplant. You are careful not to let it show, but you are terrified.
Your mom just got off the phone with your aunt Marlene back home in Nicollet, MN. She called to say a group of family and friends got together this morning to pray for the success of your transplant. They are calling themselves the Tuesday Morning Prayer Group. You don’t know this now, but they are your earth angels. The group will go on to pray for thousands of people over many more decades.
Your doctors can’t give you any solid statistics on your life expectancy. There just aren’t any. The medical team can only tell you the bone marrow should start producing healthy blood cells in 100 days. This is your goal and you do not dare to dream beyond it. You don’t know this now, but you will survive those 100 days by a long shot. About 20 years from now, one of your doctors will introduce you to his colleagues as a “miracle”. Though you will have heard this many times before, today the reality of the statement hits you. Every year on this date, you will continue to reach out and give thanks, not only to God, your family and friends but also to the doctors and nurses who helped save your life.
All you want to do is go home, sleep in your own bed and see your cat Gladys. You don’t know this now, but you will get your life back. Of course it won’t be exactly the same. Over the next few years, you will suffer with anxiety and always wonder “Is this our last holiday together?” This question will eventually fade. But other questions will stay with you. For example, when someone dies whose time on earth you feel has been cut too short, you will always ask yourself, “Why them and not me?” and wonder, “Am I really worthy of this life?” You will come to accept that you are worthy and that there probably is no answer to the why question. You will take great comfort knowing without doubt that there is a place overflowing with love you will go to after your time here on earth.
You don’t know this now, but you are going to have another dance with cancer. But when you hear “breast cancer” you are going to amaze yourself and your family and friends when you say “This sucks, but I can handle it.” Why? Because you will be much wiser, because you have managed worse than this, because you are not 19 anymore and you know that often life isn’t “fair.” It won’t slow you down, well not for long. Even though this is not the déjà vu life moment you would have chosen, you know you will have the same support of family and friends you’ve had in the past and when in doubt you’ll keep saying to yourself “I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I’ve got this.”
Most of all, you just want to feel better again. You don’t know this now, but you will be healthy and discover new strengths about who you are. A strong and ever-growing network of family and friends will keep you safe, loved and cared for. You will love deeply and laugh whole-heartedly. Chemotherapy will affect your ability to have children, but you have your hands and heart full with many adoring children in your life. You will be a positive role model for these kids and as they grow you will experience pride and joy unlike any you have ever known.
Your journey with cancer and the span of life experiences lying ahead of you will teach you of the power of faith, science and unwavering love. You don’t know this now, but what looks like the end, is really just the beginning.
Love always, Fifty-Three May 2nd, 2019 / 34th Anniversary