A Letter To The Woman Who Saved My Life
When I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer my girlfriend and I had only been together for about half a year. She was the one who found it. I don’t want to think about how long might have gone by before I noticed the lump on my own. After all, a 27 year-old with no family history and no genetic mutations isn’t likely to do regular self-exams. And I’d had a clear annual breast exam just six months before. And now, we’ve just passed the one year anniversary of our tinder date (yes, I know) and when I sat down to write her a letter I realized just how impossible it is to thank someone for saving your life. I could write a million things and still never say enough. But here goes:
I don’t even know how to say thank you at this point. We had been dating for just seven months when the radiologist called with my biopsy results, about a month after you found my lump. You were in the shower and for some reason I ran into the closet to answer the phone, as if surrounding myself with coats and tennis racquets would soften the blow. You sat next to me, still dripping, as I frantically googled, “breast cancer surgeon NYC” because what else do you do when you have cancer at 27? And then everything changed.
You brought me to the hospital at 5am and stood pacing outside the door as the doctors sedated me with a nerve block, then sat with my parents while I was in surgery. You cried with my mother when the nurse called to say they didn’t find cancer in my lymph nodes. You were there holding my hand when I woke up. You held my IV lines as I peed and nodded pleasantly when I made you look at it because the lymph-mapping dye had turned it green. You told me I looked beautiful. You sat through cringe-worthy fertility sessions where the doctor wrote “30 years” on his piece of paper, circling it absentmindedly as he talked about how “it’s all downhill from there.” Isn’t it cool to know you’ll have a geriatric pregnancy someday now that you’re over 30? You injected me with countless needles of hormones, and gave up so many mornings to be with me, watching our little follicles grow. You took care of me after the procedure, when my abdomen was so full of fluid I could barely walk. You got me through eight rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. Sometimes it meant cooking us dinner and snuggling up on the couch, sometimes it meant watching me lie on the floor and coaxing me to take more anti-nausea meds. Often it meant watching me toss and turn all night from bone pain, pleading with me to be less stubborn and take “a good dose” of pain killers like Dr. M said. Once it meant taking a headlamp to a region I never hoped to show you to see if I had a hemorrhoid. You collected my hair as we buzzed it off, piling it up gently and tucking it away. You joked about having my tumour saved to be made into an engagement ring. It meant so much to hear you talk about our future at a time when I felt like I was standing on the edge of an abyss, looking at the reflection of someone who looked a lot less like “me” and a lot more like a thumb. You did it all. And now that it’s over you squeal with delight at each new peach fuzz hair growing on my head. You take a photo of my hair every day. You still tell me I’m beautiful.
And how will we move on from here, after all this? If that was year one of our relationship, does that mean we’ve earned smooth sailing for the rest of our lives? I suppose congratulations are in order – we got through more in the last six months than many couples do in a lifetime. And I only made you empty bodily fluid from my surgical drains for like 17 days – not too shabby. I can’t imagine having gone through this with anyone else by my side, and to be honest I’m not sure I could have. You saved my life, in the most real way. Next year better have a whole lot less cancer in store for us, and a whole lot more of this love. (and hair, that would be good, too).