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On The Eve Of My 10th Cancerversary...

Hello there Jenn, it's me, well, it's you at age 48 and yes lady, you made it this far so yay you! I'm watching you, on a warm Monday night in 2007, and I know you're terrified. You have an abject paralyzing fear about the future, because just a half hour ago you heard the words no one ever wants to hear, "you have cancer." It's okay, keep crying, I'll wait. You need this time to grieve, because you have no idea what the next weeks, months and years will bring, so cry and get it all out. Right now you're curled up in bed fully clothed, I see you ... and that worn out God Save The Queen tee you have on with your cut-off denim shorts, that shirt will become part of your armor so wear it well. I also know you're straining to hear Pete on the phone telling your family what you don't have the strength yet to tell them. You're worrying about your beautiful boys overhearing those very serious and dark conversations. You want to be the one to tell them, it must come from you but Connor turns 9 the day after tomorrow and you can't dump that on them until after; timing has never been more crucial and you need more information than you have right now. Just. Breathe. A familiar cadence of footsteps are coming down the hall toward your room and before the door even opens you know it's mom. She comes in and lays down next to you telling you it's all going to be okay and as she tries desperately to soothe you as she had when you were a child and scraped your knee. But this is different, a bandaid and a kiss won't cure cancer, she knows it and you know it and together you both feel the helplessness as if it was a third person in the bed with you. The TV is on in the background but the sound is muted. You see the blurry backlit letter blocks through your red and puffy eyes, you know it's Wheel of Fortune but after tonight you'll always refer to it as the Wheel of Misfortune. The door opens again and it's Pete. He's holding the phone and tells you it's your cousin John and if anyone can make the best of a horrendous situation it's him, he's good like that and he manages to get you to laugh. Pete smiles, reaches out and smoothes your hair, and takes the phone from you before you fall apart in tears again. He's determined to get you all the support you need and even though he wants to breakdown too he won't, you and the kids need him to be a rock right now. Peter, the rock, he is the very definition of his name, this is exactly why you married him, he'll always have your back. Okay, back to your pity party. Settle down, get out your organizer and start writing down what you're going to say tomorrow when you call the office and tell them you won't make it in and god's sake don't be such a drama queen, you are not going to call out dead, jeez. Over the next few days mom is going to tell you that you need to start writing and you'll roll your eyes. Stop and listen to her. This is important. Also, you'll never go to another doctor appointment alone, this will continue right up into today, the future, where I'm beaming in from. It's annoying at first but it will become comforting and stabilizing in time so stop being such an independent freak. You'll suffer so many indignities at the hands of callous technicians and doctors that perhaps once had a bedside manner but the business of cancer has hardened them, so be strong and firm and find your voice, demand information and medication, you deserve to be comfortable at all times. Also, screaming 'WHERE THE FUCK IS THAT GOING?" and "OH HELL NO!" at the top of your lungs is perfectly acceptable under these circumstances ... also it will get you a private room, a psych consult, and some choice pharmaceuticals so yea, do that. You'll think losing your hair is the worst thing that will ever happen to you. Well, it won't be THE worst but it's in the top three so it's okay to have a breakdown. The hair loss will affect your son Peter more than you think, be sensitive to his questions and requests, this moment will be defining for him as well as you. And you won't believe me now but I'm going to tell you anyway, you'll look fabulous in headscarves and hats and Connor will tell you you look so cool, like a pirate. This will be hilarious one day very soon. The boys will be okay, I promise, and they will be the ones who keep a smile on your face when all you want to do is cry. They'll be the reason you decide to have the aggressive chemo. They'll be the reason you put one foot in front of the other every single day. You'll be so proud of how they handle this catastrophe and they grow up to be smart, kind and so much more emotionally intelligent than their peers. They'll also grow to have a biting wit, and you love this more than anything. You'll be there to see all of this so don't worry about that, you'll get to cry at high school proms and graduations. You'll move them into dorms and anxiously wait by the door when they come home for school breaks. You'll truly understand how blessed you are, though right now you feel cursed. Jenn, this is the hardest thing for me to tell you. You're going to get cancer again during the highest and most satisfying year after your treatment. You'll be celebrating your five year cancer-free milestone with a tattoo, your "wings of freedom" as you call them. You'll become a runner and you'll run 5K's. No, I'm not screwing with you this will happen and you'll be in amazing shape. You'll become a published author helping other young women navigate cancer and all of the baggage that comes with a diagnosis. Don't believe me? Just you wait and see! Things will be moving along nicely and the rug will get yanked out from under you again. I know, I know, it fucking sucks, it's NOT fair and you'll blame yourself for being too afraid of getting the mastectomy the first time around. To quote your, well our, infinite wisdom, "you locked the door and left the keys on the porch." Do not be so hard on yourself. You made the best decision you could at the time with your surgeon's guidance, no one has a crystal ball. You'll want to break something and that's okay, do it! Smash those bowls and plates one by one as hard as you can on that garage floor. Yea, yea, it will be a bitch to clean up but it will be cathartic too. Though it will be an awfully long physical recovery you'll be fine after your mastectomy, better than fine actually, you'll be fierce! You'll meet some of the very best people in the chemo room, survivor group therapy, and through Facebook. Sadly you will lose many of them and your heart will shatter every time and with each loss you'll be reminded just how fragile and special this life is. It will never get easier but your life will be so much richer for having known them. You'll struggle with survivor's guilt but you'll find your coping tools. Weirdly, you'll love yourself more after your second cancer dance, you'll be amazed at what your body is capable of and how much it can endure. You'll become fiercely protective of yourself too and that's okay, it's the price of survival. As you continue to recover your gall bladder will self-destruct and you'll be convinced you're dying, but you're not. The emergency surgeon will also be a breast cancer survivor ... a reminder that we are one of many that create a formidable army. We. Get. Shit. Done. The doctor will put you on tamoxifen to block the hormones that were stoking the second cancer. You hate tamoxifen but you'll find your funny and start calling yourself a tamoxibabe simply for your own amusement. You'll go one step further and opt to have a prophylactic hysterectomy. You obsess about feeling like less of a woman ... stop worrying, and anyway it's really cool that we can now pee standing up! Hahahahaha - I'm just kidding, (not that you'll know for sure until 2017). By now you've moved out of the cancer house. Oh hell, you left the whole state behind. You never told anyone but when you and Pete bought the house in 2003 you'd heard that the original owner had moved out once he'd remarried after losing his first wife to breast cancer. It was just a sad story in the long history of the house but after the second diagnosis this will haunt you. You'll come to hate being alone in the house after that, not because you're afraid of ghosts but because you're afraid of history repeating itself. You're free from that now, you got your 'do-over' but for you, right now, it's still 2007 (and sometimes it will feel like it is ALWAYS 2007) and you feel as if your life has ended and in a way it has but you're about to be reborn so embrace your evolution. You'll grow and adapt and change and challenge people and most importantly you'll challenge yourself. You know you're not guaranteed tomorrow so you make the most of every day. Remember to always love hard and always be kind ... oh, and by the way, your hair looks amazing. All my love, Jenn (of the future)

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