My teenage years are broken up into two distinct parts: before cancer and after cancer. Every memory I have automatically falls into a category in relation to my dad’s diagnosis. I got my driver’s license before cancer, and I graduated high school after cancer. I applied to college before cancer, and I got accepted after cancer. I wish my mind didn’t work this way, but cancer has a way of changing everything.

Dear 16-year-old Caroline…

It’s me, A.K.A. you, but 11 years older and a whole lot wiser. First off, stop going in tanning beds right this minute and don’t let anyone talk you into getting bangs. Just trust me. With that out of the way, here are a few other things to keep in mind as you navigate the insane world of high school, college, and early adulthood. Seriously, even if you don’t take advice from anyone else, listen to some advice from YOUR DAMN SELF.

When I think “bachelorette party,” I think tequila shots, Bride sashes, bikinis, and phallic-shaped accessories – probably not amazing epiphanies and healing revelations. I had my bachelorette this past weekend, though, and I had all of the above (minus the tequila, thank God). If you follow me on social media, you know we checked off every cliché in the book: the tiara, the sash, the matching swimsuits, the posed group photos. It was a fun weekend for everyone. For ME, it was something I really, really, really needed.

2.74 years, 1,000 days, 1,440,000 minutes. That’s how long it’s been since I made the decision to quit drinking permanently.

Okay, yeah, “made the decision” is a bit disingenuous. After all, there was an intervention with friends and family and they outright asked me to stop drinking. I definitely didn’t wake up one day and decide it was go-time, so I can’t pat myself on the back for that one. However, no one remains sober unless they decide to do it for themselves. I have endless gratitude for the people in my life who helped me start this journey, but make no mistake, I made the decision to get here.

I don’t know the pain of becoming a divorcee or a widow. I’ve never dealt with custody issues, dividing up a household, or burying my spouse, and I can’t fathom that sort of pain. The only noteworthy break-up I’ve ever experienced was with my high school sweetheart, and I think that’s something most everyone goes through. In fact, I think that break-up was a rite of passage, and now I can look back on that drama and laugh.