Hand shaking, I pulled the crumpled paper from my purse.
“November 2022,” I read the words on the lined paper. “Open in November 2022.”
The handwriting inside looked jagged, exhausted, and like the author had just about given up.
“To my future self or whom it may concern,” the words read.
“Elisa, it’s November of 2020. Life is bad right now. I can’t tell anyone though. They have enough on their minds, and adding my weakness to it would be too cruel. The doctors have said I’m dying. But I don’t want my family to worry anymore. So I’m acting brave… putting on a show.
“It’s true that when you’re at the end, you start to remember everything. But my life isn’t flashing before my eyes in an instant. I’ve been processing everything from a forlorn hospital room, thinking about my childhood, my youth, my kids, and Mike.
“Everyone at the hospital is worried about COVID, so I hardly have visitors. That’s why I’ve decided to write this letter. Other than the clergyman and the nurses, I don’t have anyone to talk to. The clergymen are more interested in talking than listening. And one of the nurses gave me an enema.
“Anyway, the doctors have given me two years to live. If you’re reading this, it means I either didn’t make it and you’ve discovered this letter, or I’ve lived longer than the oncologists initially expected. I’m obviously hoping for the latter.
“‘So why am I writing this to my future self?’ you might ask. It’s because I want you to remember.
“The pain is terrible, beyond unbearable. Medicine barely touches it, but without pain medicine I couldn’t live this way. Can you imagine feeling like an alien is eating away at your spine, devouring the bones, ingesting the very marrow where it’s burrowing to make a home. That’s what the melanoma feels like—as if something is eating me alive.
“So I’m writing this to tell you to be appreciative. Elisa, if you’re still alive, remember where you were two years ago when doctors said you’d die. Even if you’re on hospice or barely hanging on, remember where you were and why you’ve fought so hard or continue fighting. If you’re someone else reading these words, I want you to appreciate your health. Realize what you have. Stop complaining about the little things: how your kids didn’t pick up their backpacks, how your spouse didn’t do the dishes, how you’re having a bad hair day and tired of your job.
“They always say bad things happen to someone else—disaster strikes another home. Well, I never thought I’d be 37 years old and someone would tell me I’m about to die. They won’t let me out of the hospital right now, and I’ve even been meeting with a hospice group. That’s terribly sad, listening to people who are about to die. But now the doctors say I’m one of them, and it’s really hard to believe.
“So don’t let life pass you by. Don’t put things off until tomorrow. Take that trip, try a new hobby, shoot for the stars.
“We never think bad things could happen to US. But death comes for everyone, and no matter how much we try to distract ourselves with unimportant things, what we should be doing is appreciating every…single…moment.
“Elisa, or whoever is reading this, take it from me: life should be lived. I’m stuck in this hospital, and I may never be able to go home.
“When it comes to the end of things, when you’re looking at life in the rearview mirror, things seem a lot different. It’s not about the fancy jobs, the riches, the accomplishments…. It’s simply about love. I guess at the end of everything, the greatest thing I could’ve done is bring out the best in others and make my loved ones know how much they mean to me. That is all.
“It’s crazy how simple things look at the end. So, Elisa, if you’re still alive, I hope you haven’t lost your spark and that you haven’t forgotten what matters most. And if you’re someone else who chanced upon these words, I hope you’re living your life to the fullest.
“From a woman who wishes she could get out of this hospital and conquer the world, please enjoy the moment.
I folded the letter and placed it back in my purse. It’s crazy how hard I’ve fought through hospital stays, surgeries, a blood transfusion, radiation therapy, and infusion treatments. I’ve almost died several times in the last two years, but somehow—miraculously—I’m still here.
The landscape might feel a bit different, but the message hasn’t changed a bit. I still want to appreciate each moment, and I hope other people will do the same. Gratitude, is such a gift. It’s the door to possibility. It can make all the difference in the quality of the life we lead because it gives us the power to change our perspective.
From a grateful woman who’s still fighting cancer,