Your cancer journey is a teacher: it’s your story, not your baggage

A Letter to My Younger Self

By Somer Greene

To mark Childhood Cancer Survivor Month, 24-year-old Somer Greene offers the advice and consolation she wishes she had received when faced with a diagnosis of hereditary diffuse gastric cancer. As part of her treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Greene underwent surgery to remove her stomach and part of her esophagus. Today, she works at the University of Cambridge in England, where she earned a graduate degree.


Somer Greene during treatment.

Somer Greene during treatment.

Dear Somer,

I know that the world seems as if it is ending, but I’m here to reassure you that it’s not. Your world is not ending… it is shattering—wide open.

We continue through each shatter. In each break, we expand into a higher trust of the strength that lies behind us, within us, around us. I know “shattering” sounds just as scary, but it is in these broken pieces where you’ll find the light come flooding in.

The only words I can provide you in this moment are: Trust your body. Your recovery process will not be smooth, and you’ll experience some complications. Okay, you’ll experience a lot of complications. But you will heal. Work with and embrace the unknown; don’t trust the fear simply because it speaks first and it speaks loudest.

You’re in the process of welcoming a new normal. After this surgery, you’ll experience the world as you never have before. You’ll hear your body’s wisdom and find ways to respond with compassion.

Your cancer journey can be your greatest teacher; it can be your personal history, but not your baggage. However, you must let it teach you—you must stay open. This experience is teaching you how to be still, and no matter what is going on externally, internally you can always find peace.

You’ll find the gentle moments in recovery too: Your feet will kiss the earth when you learn to walk again after surgery (and you won’t have to use that walker forever!). You’ll learn how to let the world reveal itself to you. But first, you must go through the scary to see yourself as brave.

Cancer won’t be your “everything” forever. Believe it or not, you’ll go through some normal and non-cancer challenges, too, after all this (cue in boys, figuring out how to pay bills and be an adult, and moving across the world). You’ll be thankful for your journey. It serves as evidence of your strength and of the internal wisdom that seems to spontaneously autocorrect every step of your life into a rhythm of a dance.

Author Marianne Williamson said, “Every cell in the body is programmed to work collaboratively with every other cell, so together they can promote the healthy functioning of the organ they're part of. But a cancer cell is a cell that goes insane, disconnecting from its natural programming and going off to do its own thing instead.”

Let this serve you throughout your journey, and remind you that you cannot heal on your own. Healing is a sacred collaboration—with yourself, your friends and your family. You’re not a burden, and cancer is not your fault. As you learn to heal, others learn to heal.

I send you grace and peace, and sincerely hope this letter serves you.

Infinite Love and Gratitude,

P.S. Now for the logistics

  • During the first couple of months of recovery, stick with popsicles but don’t go anywhere near ice cream.
  • Journal five things you are grateful for every morning and every night.
  • Stay in the sun; it has many messages for you.
  • Take deeper breaths and hold more people’s hands.

P.P. S. The miracle you keep praying for is also praying for you… Babe, the miracle is you.

About the author

Somer Greene is a cancer survivor and works at the University of Cambridge, England, where she earned her graduate degree.
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