An Open Letter to My Body after Surviving Cancer Together
by Shayla Benoit
When my therapist encouraged me to write this letter, I first thought it was going to be a note full of fluffy, flowery sentiments about what we’ve gone through together. Now don’t get me wrong, we’ve made it through a hell of a lot. But I was surprised at how angry I still was when I started writing this.
In a world where you can’t count on a whole lot, I’ve always been able to count on you. And I’ll admit that I took you entirely for granted. I’ve pushed you to professionally dance, to carry enormous amounts of heavy film equipment, and to survive the demanding lifestyle of New York City. But you know what? We did it.
And I took care of you. I’ve never done drugs, I barely drink, I eat well, and I’m active. I felt like we were a team, a well-oiled machine. Then you broke down on me.
To be fair, I didn’t know we were breaking down, and I pushed you to extreme limits, to the point where I couldn’t even get up my own stairs.
I have to accept that you failed me, but you also saved me.
The memory of sitting on the bottom of my steps having to call for help at 34 years old still haunts me. I’m immediately crying as I write about it. Because, in that moment, I lost trust in you. In me. And I’ve always been able to rely on myself.
I think that’s what I’m most angry about. That I can’t trust myself anymore. The givens are gone. The safety I felt in that is gone.
And then we went through hell. The surgeries, the biopsies, the scans, the lung draining, the bone marrow biopsy, and the hellacious chemo. So much pain. So much suffering. The hair loss. The bald head. The weight loss. The weight gain. The nausea. The diarrhea. The excruciating joint pain. Seeing stars. The vomiting.
All through this, there were victories. The tumor is shrinking. The cancer is disappearing. The cancer is GONE. The tumor has VANISHED. Learning to walk normally again. Doing a double pirouette. I know you did that too. And I’m so grateful you made all those miracles happen.
You are still healing. I sometimes have a tough time seeing that and celebrating the progress we’ve made because I’m still struggling and I want you to be back to normal. I am “Shayla and the Case of the Extremely High Expectations.”
You deserve more credit than I give you. Thank you for all you’ve done for me. I have to accept that you failed me, but you also saved me. I am angry and grateful at the same time. And I don’t know how to navigate that.
The gratitude, grief, and anger all come in waves. I want the progress to be linear, but that’s not what healing is. There are setbacks. I’ve been relentlessly working to make you better, but we are not there yet, and I so desperately want to be.
There’s so much fear and uncertainty, especially because I rely on you so much for my work. But I have to acknowledge how far we’ve come already. My hope is in that.
I know you are fighting and healing. And I will continue to fight for you with everything I have. And we’re going to get a haircut too. This mullet has got to go.
Thank you and I love you,
Shayla Benoit is a filmmaker and performer who loves to create in a variety of mediums. Shayla is the president and founder of Shady Theatrics LLC, an innovative film production company that has produced multiple works for an array of organizations, including The Tony Awards, The Actors’ Equity Foundation, The Juilliard School, and The Miami Dolphins. Additionally, she has appeared at Radio City Music Hall, 54 Below, and in regional theaters across the country. Shayla can also be seen and heard on television, film, and radio.
Shayla was diagnosed with primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma at the age of 34. She is now a survivor in full remission and plans on staying that way. You can find Shayla on Instagram at @shaylabenoit and @shadytheatrics.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2022.
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