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A Letter to a Friend (And Reminder to Myself)

Coming out in public about my cancer diagnosis has allowed me to reconnect with distant family and friends from my past. Because I am very open about my journey and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, I get messages on a consistent basis from people who are also going through health challenges.

Reconnecting with an old friend

This is from the other day when an old high school friend reached out to me asking me this:

Hey Angie! Can you tell me how you keep so strong in everything you’re going through? My health has turned to the worst when I found a tick on my neck 3 weeks ago that wasn’t even from hiking. I now have lupus with autoimmune (which points to possible Lyme disease) a leaky gut so I have to completely change my diet, celiac, candida and low levels of iron. I burst into tears. Just want to know how you find the strength to keep it together?

My advice in return...

My response:

My dear ***,

I’m sorry you have to go through this. I understand that it’s a lot to be dealing with all at once and it’s ok to feel sad about it. Actually please do allow yourself to feel all the emotions that are coming up for you and don’t suppress them. Let yourself cry, be angry, confused, frustrated, feel all the negative emotions. The important thing is not to stay there. There’s no rhyme or reason why it’s you and not someone ‘less healthy’ who is going through all of this. And please don’t beat yourself up thinking about what you could have possibly done in the past to prevent your current situation. It just is.

The cycle of life is always in motion and unfortunately, there’ll be periods where we experience more pain than pleasure whether we think we’re ready or not. In my case, when I was first diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer at age 37, my first thought was ‘this is not how I’m going to leave this Earth’. My second thought was ‘this can’t be true, I can’t have stage 4 lung cancer, I’m not even a smoker!’ Then the floodgates of victimhood opened up and for days my head was spinning with thoughts like ‘it’s not fair, why me, what about my kids, statistically I’m supposed to be the widow (I actually thought that), this is all a nightmare, and I’m going to die next week.’ Next week came and went, I was still alive and actually feeling physically better. I also started feeling better mentally.

For many years before my diagnosis, I was heavy into the ‘woo-woo’ literature of ‘the Universe has got my back’, ‘the law of attraction’, ‘the power of now’, ‘mind over matter’ and all other esoteric theories that can easily be adopted when you don’t have a life-threatening disease that leads to an existential crisis. The stakes were higher now. So it made sense for me to say to myself ‘why don’t I put my money where my mouth is and actually use the situation I’m in to really test out these theories because the worse that could happen is already happening.

Once I changed my ‘woe is me’ attitude to ‘whoa, it’s me!’, things started looking up. Even though on paper my actual situation hasn’t changed much -- for doctors, I will always be diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer -- my outlook towards what was going on with my life became more positive. I haven’t been an active runner since our cross country days back in high school but I compare this outlook to exercising a muscle. You have to constantly keep working at it for it to remain strong. It has to become a habit like brushing your teeth.

But you’re getting there. Just the fact that you reached out to me with the hopes of finding the strength to keep yourself together means that you’re looking to change your outlook from victim to victor. All I can say is take it one day at a time. Thinking about the ‘should’ve’ and 'could’ve' will drive you insane and worrying about the future is like praying for something you don’t want to happen. The easiest (and hardest) is to just stay in the present and be grateful that you have another day to make the best of the situation you find yourself in.

Sending you lots of love and light ❤️✨

-Angie

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