Photo by Sam.
Editor’s Note: These letters are corrected only in the case of spelling and grammatical errors, for the sake of readability. YFH protects the privacy of its readers and uses a pseudonym in the title.
“Oh very young, what will you leave us this time? You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while, and though your dreams may toss and turn you now, they will vanish away like your daddy’s best jeans, denim blue fading up to the sky”
This was the soundtrack to your childhood – and you don’t know it yet, but in a few years, it will resonate again, with a whole new meaning.
But right now, you are invincible. You conquer the decisions that seem important like they’re pebbles underfoot – the liberation and heartache of a first big breakup, the challenges of trying to do well at university without trying (not easy, and not for you, but don’t worry, you scrape through) collecting friends along the way that you believe you’ll have for life.
And for the most part, the next five years will be wonderful.
But at some point, around May 2010, things will get confusing. And although you’ve been through some pretty big things, and broken bones, and burnt yourself on pans in the kitchen, and cut yourself shaving – this will knock you for a six.
At first, it throws you off balance – your life was heading full steam towards the great unknown, and you were cheering it on, head out the window and wind in your hair. Suddenly, the power’s gone – the steam has all gushed out and the bellows are quiet.
Normally so full of energy, you become another person – even getting out of bed will exhaust you, and although it takes a while for it to solidify, you know there is something wrong.
You know this, because your mum, so fearless and brave, starts getting scared. Because your dad starts taking time off work to drive you to endless scans and appointments. Because your doctors are sending you for rounds and rounds of tests and referrals and scans and they change their mind like it’s a wheel of fortune and who knows what the wheel will stop on. Everything just spins.
And all of a sudden, things start becoming serious.
And you realize, no one has it figured out. Not even your doctors, these fabulous gurus, the best of the best that your mum has spent countless hours searching forums on the internet for, phoning around to get appointments and opinions. Even they are only guessing, testing out theories, testing out diagnoses and prognoses while they try and get results to fit.
And nothing fits.
Until suddenly they’ve ruled out all the absurd and surreal possibilities (“Cat scratch disease, when where you last scratched by a cat?” what?) and they’re left with the worst.
You’re under the knife on Thursday, and by Friday they’ve got one of your ridiculously swollen lymph nodes in their hot little hands, ready to slice and dice and (hopefully) bring you a diagnosis that comes with choices and options and a future.
You will go to Dad’s 50th that weekend. You’ll be zonked out on pain meds, and struggling to keep up with conversation. You’ll overhear women gossiping in the toilets about your scar, and go cry to your grandma, who will offer to “beat them up” just to make you smile. You’ll watch you Mum give a beautiful speech, you’ll marvel at the kind of love that lasts decades, and you’ll STILL be at that awkward stage of whether to sit with the kids or adults for dinner (don’t worry, that does end).
But in the back of your mind, there’s a countdown clock and you’ve got one eye on it the whole weekend.
Come Monday, you’ll have an answer. You’re steeling yourself for every possibility, and you verbalise this to as many people you can, to cement it in yourself – lymphoma is a very treatable cancer, you’re positive that if that’s the news you get, you will be fine. You will be fine. You will be fine.
The weekend-long party draws to an end – they never did things by half, and they still don’t – wait for Mum’s 50th – and you’re excused from packing cause you’re still not quite with it. The gash in your neck throbs, and swallowing the tablets makes you cry – you’re not sure if it’s the pain, or an excuse to let everything that’s overwhelming you out for a minute.
Sunday is spent in a flurry of getting back to Brisbane, unpacking and distracting, constantly distracting each other and yourself.
Morning comes, and with it – as you had seen in the movies, as you had hoped – a sense of calm. You get dressed and head to the hospital with Mum, and sitting in that waiting room is probably the most awake and alert you have been in 6 months.
Doctor calls you in, and gives you the good news – it’s not cancer. They aren’t sure, but they think it’s sarcoidosis, a treatable auto-immune dysfunction that isolates cells your body thinks is bad and kills the tissue around them, presenting like cancer to everyone and everything but the fancy doctor machines.
His words wash over you, and everything goes numb.
There’s no reaction fit for this, although you’re pretty sure you might have a couple of broken fingers from Mum squeezing your hand under the table.
Pure, unfiltered relief clouds your eyes white and you’re not listening to anything, not thinking anything except for how goddamn lucky you are. Who cares what this Sarcoidosis is/does/will do – you’ve been walking down a hallway with just one door at the end, and suddenly fallen through a trapdoor onto a pile of pillows.
Back in the car, you’re sobbing, you’re both sobbing, so hard you can’t tell Dad, who has been waiting in his office with his phone on loud for you to call.
But finally you can get the words out and he’s crying too, and your grandparents, and you text your friends and you put it on Facebook because you feel like you’ve won something, you’ve been running a race and suddenly realized there’s no competitors and you can slow down, bend over, collapse, relieve.
And that’s not to say the next couple of years are easy. You don’t get better, not for quite a while. You have to take steroids, and your hair falls out, your skin gets bad, you put weight on in weird places, and you get moods that swing like Tarzan on speed.
And sometimes, it gets you really down. You can’t do things your friends can, you have a swollen neck for a long time and it makes you self-conscious, and tired, so tired all the time.
But you will live with this disease, and you will cope with this disease, cause just having this disease has been a chance to have something that you can live with. You don’t really believe in a higher power, but heck – whatever karma, god, or hand of fate has decided this is your path – they deserve a pat on the back and a beer.
Just after finding out your diagnosis, you write a blog post – you’re going to look back on that one a lot. You’ll talk about fairy tales, and how they prepare you for life. It will be a whole big metaphor of thanks to your parents, your wonderful wonderful family, and your friends, who brought you flowers every time you were in hospital, and put up with your tears, even shed them with you. Because somehow even speaking your thanks and appreciation for them will be too hard to put into as many words for a while.
It’s now 3 years on, and you’re in a place in your life you never thought you would be. Somehow, you, the little sook, get brave enough to move interstate – you get a job, and a life, and you meet the guy of your dreams along the way.
There are moments in your life that truly change the path you’re on, the way you think about things, and the things that scare you – and that was one of them.
And though life has thrown you hurdles along the way, sticks to trip you and branches that whip you in the face and make tears spring to your eyes, you come out the other side, not as a different, changed person – just as you, the same girl.
G.K. Chesterton wrote that fairytales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.
READ PAST YFH FIVE YEARS HERE.
Five Years Ago is an initiative about perspective, direction and acceptance. It’s simple really: write a letter to your five-year-ago self and explain what’s happened in the five years they’re yet to live. Send us yours: firstname.lastname@example.org.