Yesterday, as I took my morning walk under a clear blue sky, I enjoyed the slightly crisp air that felt like early fall and I thought about birthdays. I took some time to consider my attitude toward the concept. I’m usually too busy, too occupied mentally, to think much about it, but yesterday I was turning fifty-six, so the topic was hard to avoid.
Six years ago, as I got closer and closer to the day I would turn 50, I strongly considered giving birthdays up for good. People joke about it all the time, but I was really depressed. It didn’t seem possible that I could be approaching this milestone. Fifty felt old.
Then came cancer, and I spent a large part of my fiftieth birthday in the chemo room. Being diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins Lymphoma turned my life upside down, and it forever changed my attitude toward birthdays. It was while I was going through chemo that the new American Cancer Society campaign began–the one with the birthday cakes and the singing. I remember lying on the couch watching the birthday candles burn, listening to the famous people sing, and feeling my attitude change. I wanted to have more birthdays.
I know that I am enjoying more birthdays because of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Hodgkins patients who came before me. They underwent experimental treatments. They fought, and the doctors learned, and I got to walk out of the cancer center last January with the word “cured” stamped across my file. Last week my husband was even able to sign me up for cancer insurance. I am grateful.
Lately, I have noticed some other changes. I began this school year with a different attitude. I can’t really explain it. For the last few years I’ve had cancer checkups just before the start of the year. Last year I had scans looming in January. There was a little cloud over the beginning of every year, always ready to rain on my parade. This year, the sun shines. This year, I began the year feeling like a first grader. I was eager to go to school; I couldn’t wait to meet my classes and, just like a first grader, I found myself getting a bit tired around noon. I’ll adjust–just like a first grader.
Life is crazy right now, because the beginning of the school year is always so. Our family is juggling new jobs and new schools and getting ready to go back to college. We won’t get to celebrate my birthday until Wednesday, but when we do, I’ve decided: I want six candles on my cake, just like a first grader–six years since cancer, six years that I have lived because others died. Birthdays should be celebrated! Everything from fifty on out is icing on my birthday cake.