A Letter To My 29 Year Old Self


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Dear Sharon,

I am here with you on this February morning of 1988, watching you sleep. I am taken aback not just by your youthful appearance but by a look on your face I haven’t seen in years. Even in sleep, your face shows a look of optimism and blind faith that everything in your life will turn out alright.  You still innocently believe that the universe is a fair and orderly place where good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. I wonder if this is the last time you will ever look like this or if it takes a few more days or weeks for that innocence to disappear forever.                                                   

You think you are going through a rough patch right now due to recent personal losses. By the time this day is over, the break-up with your boyfriend and the lay-off from your job will be the least of your worries

Your big plan for the morning is to get onto the typewriter and prepare cover letters for your resume so you can end this spell of unemployment. But your plans are about to change in four…three…two…one. Good! You are awake. Time to stretch your arms overhead and accidentally touch your left breast. Ah…do you feel it?

You have had lumps and bumps in your breasts before but this one feels somehow different. You touch it again, this time deliberately, and then touch the other breast for comparison’s sake. There is nothing at all similar anywhere else in either breast. Watching your face, I see your eyes grow wider and a mixture of fear and confusion crosses your face.                                                               

I watch you hesitate and then reach for your address book that contains your doctor’s phone number. I watch you talking to the receptionist and see the surprise in your face when she tells you there has been a cancellation and the doctor can see you in an hour.

There is no time to think. You are still telling yourself that you are bothering the doctor over nothing. Everyone knows 29 year olds don’t get breast cancer. They don’t get breast cancer at 29 even if their mother battled both breast and ovarian cancer in the last decade. Breast cancer is for menopausal women not young women in their 20’s. Part of you wants to call the office back to cancel the appointment. I am here to whisper to you that this is one appointment you must keep. Not really knowing why, you find yourself at the doctor’s office waiting to be examined.

The doctor said it will probably just be a cyst but given your family history, it is good that you came to have it checked out. You note the doctor’s smiling face turn into a frown as she feels the lump for herself. There is a hospital across the street from her office and she makes arrangements for you to see a breast surgeon that very afternoon. She explains that he will try to drain the lump with a needle and if it is a fluid filled cyst, it will collapse and that will be the end of the matter.  You notice that she is smiling too brightly and talking a bit too fast.  

I see the shadows of fear and doubt starting to take root on your face. As much as I would like to tell you that everything will be okay, I know how this part of the story ends. I can only whisper to you again that this is yet another appointment you can’t afford to miss.

I can read your thoughts. You feel like time is moving way too fast. The day’s events are hurtling forward like an out of control train on a too short track. You cross the street and wait to see the breast surgeon. You wonder what it feels like to have a needle stuck in your breast.

You don’t have long to wonder. You are disrobing yet again and having your second breast examination of the day. Once again you see the doctor frown when his hand examines your lump. He takes out a needle and thrusts it into your breast. When he withdraws it, you note that it is not filled with fluid. It is not a cyst. It is solid. Just watching you, I can see the anxiety solidifying on your face and I can almost feel your stomach dropping in fear.

You are sent to another floor for your first mammogram. It hurts, particularly after just having been subjected to the needle. When you return to the surgeon’s office, he tells you a surgical biopsy will be required to tell if it is benign or cancerous. There is a deadly silence after the cancer word is spoken. You find yourself asking the doctor what he thinks it is. As soon as you say those words aloud, you want to take them back. You don’t want to hear his answer.

He tells you only a biopsy can truly determine if it is cancerous but then adds that the physical exam and the mammogram are highly suggestive of a malignant tumor. You don’t hear a word he says after that although you do manage to stumble to the receptionist’s desk to book a biopsy appointment in a few days time.

You slowly walk back towards your apartment, unaware of the tears flowing down your cheeks. A random man calls out to you not to cry, no guy is worth your tears. This makes you cry harder and you race home to avoid any further attention. All you want is to talk to your Mom and have her hold you. She lives 500 miles away so a long distance call will have to do. I look closely at your face. Your eyes have the startled look of a deer caught in the headlights. The blind faith optimism has vanished from your face, never to return again.  You know you have breast cancer even though it hasn’t been officially diagnosed yet. You want to know what happens next, how you will ever go on.

I came from the future to answer your questions and reassure you that there will still be good times ahead. But how can I tell you that this won’t be your last cancer? How do I say that it will come back again and again and again? Even I don’t know the final ending to our story. I look at your shattered face and do not think you could handle the news of all the challenges that lie ahead of you. It will be easier for you to just live and survive them one by one the way I did.

So I will rip up this letter I have been writing to you as I think it would do more harm than good. I wish there was some way to let you know that there is happiness ahead as well as pain but I can’t tell you about one without telling you about the other. I would love to restore the unthinking optimism to your face but I know it is gone for good. For us, the universe is a disorderly random place where bad things can happen to good people.  Just know that you are going to live at least 26 more years and that you will get to be a mother to 2 children you will love very much. It is going to take a very long time for you to come to peaceful terms with yourself but I guarantee it will happen.

Good-bye for now old friend. Please forget I ever was here whispering in your ear. Just know my whispers saved your life this time.

Sharon Greene  January 8, 2015
Age 56

Posted from WordPress for Android

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73 thoughts on “A Letter To My 29 Year Old Self

    1. That 29 year old woman would have been overwhelmed with what her future had in store had the knowledge been given to her all at once, in advance. This 56 year old woman only had to deal with each crisis as it arose and so was able to get through each one, one day at a time. Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

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  1. Such a powerful story ~ written so beautifully. A time in your life that put you on a path that while full of struggles & fear, has also allowed you to create such a beautiful life for yourself and those around you.

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    1. I’m glad that the post could reconnect you with the emotions you felt at your cancer diagnosis. For me, my world was never the same after that moment. My remaining innocence was lost forever and the world became a much more random and chaotic place. Thanks for reading the post and sharing such lovely comments!

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  2. This is such a beautifully written letter. You wrote in such a way that I was there with you. As you walked home from that first doctor’s visit, I felt the tears running down my cheeks. I wanted to call my mom.

    This is a testimony to grace. This is a picture of hope. THANK YOU for sharing. You are a blessing.

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  3. Letter is quite touchy, couldn’t have been better. That’s because it’s actually from the real Sharon to her self. All the experiences, the thoughts and feelings she felt that year put into simple words. You’re one strong woman Sharon!!

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  4. Letter is quite touchy, couldn’t have been better. That’s because it’s actually from the real Sharon to herself. All the experiences, the thoughts and feelings she felt that year put into simple words. You’re one strong woman Sharon!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we could all live with the news that we would win big in the lottery, be happily married to the love of our life, and be highly respected and successful pursuing the dream job we love. Its when the news is not so great, I think advance notice just creates dread and paralysis. I got through 4 cancers one at a time, always thinking this would be my last one. I think I would have felt defeated before I even started if I knew I would have to undergo surgery and treatment 4 times. Thanks for your insightful comments on this post!

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    1. My 29 year old self was curious about her future but she couldn’t have handled the truth. Even the joy of motherhood came about through the pain of diminished fertility due to chemo at 34. Eventually we decided to adopt 2 children, an option I may never have considered had my fertility remained intact. I thankfully got the children I was meant to mother and they have been a source of great joy. Its unfortunate that the same result couldn’t have been achieved without cancer being involved.

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  5. Sharon your post made me feel lost for words. I can’t seem to find the right words to describe your courage and strength. You brought tears to my eyes this morning. I am so grateful to you for writing such a letter and reminding us how precious life is and how to make the most of it no matter what. It’s so important to always have hope. Sharon you’re awesome. My respect to you! I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Thank you!

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    1. I’m trying to stay strong. My message is that you can be a long term survivor even with an aggressive type of breast cancer, having a BRCA1 mutation, and doing cancer “wrong”, at least according to some people. Thanks again for your very supportive comments!

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  6. I can’t even tell you how this broke my heart, but I am so glad you’re surviving and living well! I agree–if we had known everything we were going to go through, our kids might never have been adopted, but getting through it one day at a time, we’ve survived and the kids (3.5 years in) are doing very well, considering what they went through. Thanks for blogging your journey, and the reminder that we can get through it with grace.

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    1. For me, breast cancer and adoption are very closely linked. If it weren’t for the chemo I had at 34, my fertility might not have been impaired. Adoption may never have entered my mind if I was able to get pregnant. Adoption brought 2 wonderful children into my life that I can’t imagine living without and who have brought such joy into my life. I ended up with the children God intended me to have. Out of the bad (cancer), I was blessed with the happiness of being the Mom to 2 terrific children.

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      1. Just to warn you, I’m adding you to my “List of people to cry to when our girl hits puberty.” It’s great to hear about kids who grew up and are wonderful! Ours are really wonderful (although sometimes challenging) and we were actually talking tonight about how Hubby and I totally expect them to be incredibly amazing adults and can’t wait to see it. 🙂 (Also told them they’re super cool now.)

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  7. I would tear it up do. You want yourself to know, what to prepare for, but you don’t want to change a thing based on what is coming! I wrote a letter to 14 year old me for a project a group was doing. It definitely makes you reflect. *hugs*

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    1. Thanks for the hugs! My poor 29 year old self would have given up the will to go on had she known she would be facing breast cancer 4 times. It was probably better to deal with each one at the time they arose instead of advance notice of all 4 at once. 29 year old me had quite different plans for her future than just dealing with cancer over and over again.

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  8. Sounds like you’ve been through a lot, Sharon. This is a cool idea. I am sure that many women will read this and feel comforted, besides yourself. I am a believer that we can go across time and help other parts of our selves. To me, time is not linear. I hope that you survive many more years. The world needs spirit like yours.

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    1. Thank you for your very insightful comments! I would like to time travel back to that 29 year old young woman but I fear she would just panic when she knew what was in store for her in the future. I think she would be overwhelmed to have all that information at that time in her life. But there is other advice she might listen to if it were presented in the right wsy. Hmmm.

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    1. Thank you Alan. That quote is lovely and very meaningful to me. I hope this recounting of my initial cancer diagnosis will resonate with others going through the same thing. The ultimate message is hopeful as while there are heavy challenges ahead, eventually joy and peace emerge from the chaos and destruction. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments.

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  9. OK first of all, for some reason I read this first as “letter to my 92 year old self” and I thought, how interesting that she’s got her life all planned and self-forgiveness is already there. Hmm. Anyway, thank you for writing this and for showing such compassion to your younger self. 🙂

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    1. Now that would be an interesting post! I have no idea what I would say to my 92 year old self other than, “I can’t believe you are still here!” Thanks for reading my post and for your comments.

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  10. Sharon, this post is poignant and beautiful. You have been through so much, and yet you share a well-thought-out perspective. Very creative approach to a blog post. I might do a letter to a younger self one day, but I don’t know what I’d say!

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    1. Thank you Beth! I have re-enrolled in WordPress’s Blogging 101 again to pick up a lot of technical things I missed the first time around. Today’s assignment was to do something different than you usually do so this piece was the result. It is true to the best of my memory of 26 years and 4 cancers ago! Thanks for your always encouraging comments!

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  11. Sharon … This beautifully written letter helped me to see a different side. There is hope, there is still happiness, yet at the back of that lingers an unknowing. Although none of know what our future will bring, yours brings an unknowing with a hint of knowing what is possible, a double insecurity. Difficult to fully comprehend if we have not been through what you have been through. Once again I am sure your words will be helpful to others and also honest in what can be expected. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

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    1. Yes, we want to know our future but if it was all told to us at once, it may well overwhelm us and not let us go on. When life is lived day by day, we can press on, even though our younger self would have recoiled in horror from the challenges that lay ahead. Even with so much pain ahead, there is still joy to be found.

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