As I completed my last round of chemotherapy a few weeks ago, I thought back to the woman I was before cancer. Looking back at how much life has changed -- and how much I've changed -- I decided to write a letter to myself just before I was diagnosed with large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer.
Dear Stephanie of January 2012,
On January 25, 2012, you will be diagnosed with cancer. And three years later -- almost to the day -- you will finish chemo treatment and be on a new journey. Be encouraged. Those three years will be some of the hardest years of your life, but they'll shape you in ways no other experience could. Be grateful.
You are both stronger and weaker than you could ever imagine. Life is about to show you that.
Here's what I want you to know about yourself now -- before cancer -- and what's to come.
Stay ready. You are young, healthy, vibrant, and full of energy and dreams. You are working hard and enjoy your job. You have married the love of your life and are thrilled to come home to him every day. This truly feels like the beginning of an incredible journey, and you and your husband feel ready to conquer anything. Ready for whatever the future has in store for you. You think that means a white picket fence and two children. You feel ready for a reason, but it's not the reason you think. Stay ready.
Think about who you want to be. I know how much you love it. Go on with your blonde self -- enjoy it. You are in shape and look good. You don't believe it, but you are perfectly beautiful as you are. Stop worrying so much about it. Soon you will find that when looks fade, character will remain. Start thinking about your identity.
Your husband adores you. You think you have an understanding of his love and commitment, but you really have no clue yet. You both laugh at the words of friends who married before you: "The first year is the hardest." You say to each other, "If the first year is the hardest, we'll be smooth sailing for the rest of our lives because this is easy!"
You were right: the first year was easy. Things will get harder. The man who stands by your side now will stand by your side through your darkest times. He meant every single word of his vows to you. Cherish him.
Go with the flow. You like plans, goals and lists. You struggle with control. You want things just right. Let your pride take a step back. Though you have perfected the plans of your life story, be ready for something different. It's OK to go with the flow. Be open to new things. Surrendering the life and all of the plans you blueprinted is scary, but marvelous.
You have experienced pain and loss, but you don't fully know grief. It's bitter and refreshing all at once. It comes swiftly and unexpectedly, but can truly heal if you let it. Though you are emotional at times, crying will soon become second nature. It doesn't mean that you are weak. In tears, there is strength. Allow yourself to experience the pain and then work through it. Don't avoid situations because they make you uncomfortable. Dive in.
You have a story. The life you live now will soon change to reveal your purpose. The woman you are now will be pruned in order for a new creation to spring forth. At times, you won't recognize the woman you see in the mirror, but she is still there, stronger than before. Though there will be days and even months of painful struggle, the reward for staying steadfast will overwhelm you. Don't give up. Keep your eyes focused on what matters most.
You are brave. You are strong. You are fierce. You are a warrior. You are a fighter. You have the tools you need. You can do this. I believe in you.
With utmost expectations and encouragement,
Stephanie of Jan. 2015
To read more about Stephanie Madsen, visit her blog.