Monday, October 16, 2023

The Gift of Letting Go

In 2020, doctors discovered that the melanoma, which started as a mole on my wrist, had spread up my spine and into my brain. Doctors removed the large tumor eating my L3, and afterward, a spine surgeon entered my hospital room to promptly say he gave me two years to live—IF I was lucky. I stared out the window, completely in shock and devastated, wondering if I would ever see all of my children become adults.

Shortly after this conversation, I faced a barrage of appointments: radiation, infusions, planning meetings at the melanoma clinic... I waited to meet my main oncologist but felt quite self-conscious because brain radiation had left me bald. It might sound shallow, but this was tough at first. I'd had such long hair before; some people even said it was beautiful.
While I sat all by myself in the waiting room, a lady plopped down right next to me. For some reason, she started telling me about herself, and before we knew it, she'd shared secrets about her childhood and years as a young adult. 

Kids had bullied her—all the way from kindergarten to 12th grade. She'd grown up in an unhappy home and married at the age of 18 just to get away from her parents. But, as so many stories go, her spouse was abusive and she ended up getting divorced at the age of 21.

I turned to her sadly and suddenly couldn't help studying how she'd dressed. She wore the most gorgeous clothes. Her hair caught the light, perfectly curled, and her nails seemed immaculate. Something came to me then, that sometimes we wear old memories—and hurtful things people have said—we don them just like clothes! Wouldn't it be so much better if we accepted the helpful, encouraging things people say instead of the comments that hurt us?

I shared this analogy with her, hoping it would help. She thought hard and finally said, "That really struck a chord with me... I don't want to relive all of this over and over. In fact, I actually hate talking about these things. I want to let them go."
Well, last week, as I sat in the melanoma clinic—nearly 3 years later—I saw this woman again. She didn't recognize me, probably because my hair has finally grown back after brain radiation. She sat talking to another stranger, telling her the exact same stories she had told me!
After I left the clinic, I couldn't stop thinking about this woman, wondering, "Am I like that?" "Do I ever hold onto the past so fiercely, not wanting to let the painful memories go?" I thought then about donning an old, moldy, moth-eaten coat... Putting it on just because I think the pain will protect me from getting hurt again. 

I opened my grandma's happiness file. After she passed away, my aunt found a strange little box my grandma had titled her "happiness file." She'd struggled with depression and had stuffed the box full of little ideas that seemed to help her feel better.

As I thought about the woman from the clinic, I remembered something my grandma had written about forgiveness. The papers rustled while I searched and finally found the words I'd hoped for: Let's remember some less conspicuous gifts, like the gift of letting go. It seemed strange to think of this as a gift, strange until I actually understood.

There are certain things I've been holding onto, just like that woman—memories I relay to others that I should've let go a long time ago... How people hurt me. Even memories from my first marriage. But as my grandma's words sunk in, I realized my life is hard enough just fighting terminal cancer and death. I don't want to dwell on terrible memories from over a decade ago or wear the identity of negative statements people have made about me.

Yes, I want to accept constructive criticism and become the best person that I can, but as far as the destructive, condemning comments, they don't need to take root in my life ANY longer. 

It's just like my grandma wrote, "Let's remember the less conspicuous gifts, like the gift of letting go."


  1. You are one of the most amazing women I’ve known. I don’t see how anyone could give anything but a compliment.

  2. I'm so sorry I haven't been in touch. You are an amazing woman and if I ever met up with that doctor, I would let him know how I feel about such an incredibly insensitive announcement. Sending much love to you and your family.

  3. Thank you so very much for writing so beautifully about your experience. My husband passed away from stage four melanoma in September 2022 and it was a very difficult experience. I wish we had had more conversations and been open to fully expressing all the joy and pain and everything in between / with that long year of battling this disease. Praying for you and your healing / and big hugs from Chicago.