Dear C,

I think about you in my sleep.

Dreaming, of the lives you stifle breath out of, the lives you freely take.

You were an accident. You were not meant to be here. A simple mutation, multiplying malignant cells at a rapid rate. Spreading to all that is good and clean and defiling it.

My mother could not sleep. All she could do was think about you; you in her mammogram, you killing her healthy tissues. You, the disease. Don’t pretend your intentions are more honorable than rudimentary natural selection. Don’t pretend you’re not a biological murderer.

In the months that followed, my family put a lot on hold for my mother’s health. Although my dad had wanted to spend time finding the best fit for him, he had to find a job as soon as possible in order to fund her medical expenses. Since both my parents were occupied and we only had one car, I was unable to learn to drive to acquire my license.

Then, we removed you. Dr. Quiet conducted a lumpectomy, and after a lot of time spent hoping and praying, the Ductal Carcinoma was gone. A hefty burden had been lifted, and we were given a reprieve. My mother went to radiation therapy at the Arizona Center for Cancer Care as she healed from the surgery.

We thought we won. Then, you were back. Back in the mammogram and back in our dreams. Your looming presence haunted us in the ultrasound. We were worried for days, hands trembling and heart quickening, our very fears on the brink of confirmation. The omnipresent Eye, watching our every move as we baited our breath.

Go away! Please leave us alone. Why aren’t you satisfied?

A few days later, an MRI-guided biopsy soothed our fears: it was a false alarm and you were gone for now. But “for now” does not mean forever. Sometimes it just means later.

You gave my mother a chance, but it feels mocking. Is this anything more than a glorified trap? We are constantly stuck in this weird state of limbo: temporary ease of mind overshadowed by a fear for the future. Will you come back, or will you stay away?

Why do some live while others die at birth? Why do you get to decide who’s time is up?

Our fear froze us, but now it has become our fuel. My mother takes Tamoxifen, a prescription that blocks estrogen levels. We have cut out all meat from our diet and turned to cancer-weakening agents such as sulforaphanes and polyphenols, which are found in cruciferous vegetables and green tea. We walk in the mornings. We love harder than before.

You have taught me that life is precious, and to always be on guard. We are not afraid of you anymore. You can hurt our bodies, you can rob us of our future—but you can never take away our spirit.

I still think about you in my sleep.

You’re no God. You’re just a nightmare.

Faith Chadwick