Today is my birthday. The birthday wishes started last night via text and social media. I woke up to 68 birthday wishes on Facebook, which has now jumped to 127+. Seeing all of the well wishes and comments, and feeling the love, it’s priceless. It is beautiful, uplifting, and makes me realize how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people in my life who want to reach out to me today. This day also reminds me that my doctor told me that if I hadn’t been diagnosed and rushed into treatment, I probably would not have survived another year. Above all things today, I am extremely grateful.
Last week I found myself trying to answer the question, “What are you doing for your birthday?” I looked at my calendar and realized there was nothing planned. It was a bit odd, to not have anything to do, after the crazy cancer fundraiser/birthday party that was planned last year. In contrast, today has been a quiet and uneventful day, which has made me reflect on where I was last year and how much things have changed.
I look back at the photographs of me, bald and smiling, being embraced and held up by my friends, family, and community. It makes me realize how fortunate I am, both for the people I am surrounded by, but also to be here today, feeling relatively healthy. I am asked often by people, when the subject of my treatment last year comes up, “Are you in remission?” or “How are things?” (which usually leads to people asking if I’m done with treatment). I welcome these questions and know that it simply means people want to know how my health is. I look at their faces and see how awkward it is for them to ask me about it. I see the worry, the concern. I tell them, as I’m now telling you, my doctor says my type of cancer, aggressive endometrial cancer that had traveled out of the uterus to the lymph nodes, will usually come back within 2-3 years if chemo didn’t zap all of the remaining cells. If I make it past the 3 year mark, it probably won’t return. I finished chemo in September of last year. I’m looking forward to celebrating my one year anniversary and every time I see my oncologist for my 3 month checkups, he says time passing without any changes is what we want.
I should tell you that I am rare, both for being diagnosed with endometrial cancer so young and for not having any blood markers. That means they cannot draw blood to check to see if the cancer has returned. Instead, I am the gauge. It scared me a bit when my doctor told me that. If I start to feel “off”, I am supposed to report it immediately, so a CAT scan can be performed to see what’s going on inside. We are trying to avoid exposing me to more radiation, unless necessary, so we are erring on the side of caution. To be honest, I really don’t think about this on a daily basis. I don’t want to. If I did, it would affect my life and my peace of mind. Instead, I choose to wake up and be grateful. I look for what makes me happy and I focus on that instead. Focusing on the possible return of a cancer diagnosis seems like it would be exactly what cancer cells would want. I won’t give it to them.
Simplicity is something I appreciate these days. For my birthday my wife asked what I wanted for brunch (blueberry pancakes, veggie sausage, and fresh peaches). We took the dogs for a little ride in our new/used car that has made my life much less stressful. I went and got a haircut. For dinner we shared my freebie birthday veggie burger from Red Robin and a vanilla milkshake and then went to a place we hadn’t been in a while and enjoyed a soak and sauna under the stars. While I was there, sitting in silence and staring at the big dipper, I tried to make a list of things I’m grateful for in my head. I came to the conclusion that it would take an entire blog post to say everything I would want to say and even then, I’d miss something and want to revise it later. Instead, I will just say that I am grateful for everything around me that makes up my life. You can’t have the good without the bad or the light without the dark. To me, the point of waking up every morning is to keep breathing, trying, learning, and moving forward.
Today I am 48 years old. I am married to someone who would do most anything to make my life better or easier. We know what unconditional love is and appreciate one another. We know what it is to endure a life-threatening situation together while keeping each other smiling and sane. I run two businesses doing what I love – creating art and helping people with health and nutritional support. Both things make others (and myself) happy and I get to work with people I genuinely like. I “beat cancer”. I am surrounded by love and compassion. People in my life are constantly rooting for me and that feels pretty darned good. I feel comfortable in my skin for the first time in my life and I like who I am. It’s taken me most of my life to get here and I am not finished. We are all a work in progress. I believe we have to do the work to accept ourselves, to find our purpose, and then to give of ourselves with kindness and gratitude. The rest will come.
I will never take for granted that I am still here, alive and kicking. I’m thinking today of two beloved friends we lost to cancer. Both of these people contributed so much to our community and their presence is greatly missed. It’s hard to process it all. I really wish we could be celebrating together today. Cancer is a jerk. I am painfully aware that every day is a gift. I am thankful that they graced this world with their presence and left a mark on so many hearts, including mine. Happy Birthday indeed. ❤