Deckard Montesanto is a 2017 Andre Sobel Honorable Mention winner.
My dearest friend,
When you have cancer, it’s so easy to feel alone. As supportive as your parents are, and as kind as the doctors and nurses may be, there will always be something lacking. Lying in a hospital bed night after night with chemicals in your veins usually puts a damper on the socializing. People will leave you during this time, unable to handle such a stressful situation. This is how you will come to realize who your real friends are. Don’t mourn the loss of your summer soldier friends; they’re not worth the stress. Those that are willing to stick around, though, should be treasured. Don’t push them away and isolate yourself. It’s so easy to get caught up in your illness; that’s what happened to me.
Trust me when I say that you need to hold onto those friends who are willing to weather this storm with you. Don’t let this bump in the road change who you are as a person. No matter how bad things may seem, it’ll only be worse if you succumb to the hopelessness looming in the back of your mind. It is more important now than ever to do something with your life. While I had cancer, I did not attend school, so I put my all into making something of myself. I wrote, I drew, I explored and learned on my own. These modes of self-betterment not only kept me active during my illness, but also served as creative outlets for the intense emotions I was feeling at the time. Here’s a poem I wrote at the time. I hope that it can help or inspire you just like writing it did for me.
I waltz in places where nurses walk.
I weave linoleum in every breath
And choke on the aftertaste of hospital cleaner.
I bite back acid rising in my throat
And trample words of weakness;
They’ll never know.
Shadows my every move.
But the band plays on
And I waltz.
I know it’s rather morbid, but that’s the reality of the situation. Having cancer isn’t going to be fun, but it’s about turning it into something useful or creative or beautiful. People describe cancer as a “debilitating illness,” but it doesn’t have to be. Some of my best work stemmed from when I was sick.
I’m not sure if this is an awful view to have or if it’s just putting a positive spin on a terrible situation, but cancer survivors do get something out of their experiences. As awful and painful as it may seem at the time, it does give you a certain strength and maturity that will benefit you in life. As long as you are not bogged down by the negativity that is often associated with life threatening illnesses, it can be a life changing experience.
My biggest regret is being so depressed while I had cancer. I saw it only as a rough patch in my life and that I somehow deserved to suffer. It is only now, five years later, that I realize how much of a better person it has made me. Physical scars will fade, but what you do with the rest is entirely up to you. Just make sure you don’t squander this opportunity. Cancer is bad enough as it is; don’t make it a waste of time as well.
The most important thing I want you to remember is that you are still you; a person is not defined by their illness. It’s so easy to get caught up in your cancer and let it ruin your life. You are so much stronger than that, though. And if you ever feel like you’re not, you have a great support team to reach out to. Don’t feel guilty or stop yourself from asking thing if you need help. You don’t have to deal with this on your own.
The last thing I was to leave you with is that everyone does still love you. You are still their child, sibling, anything but the walking disease you see yourself as. Let them love you and make sure you love yourself as well.