Birthdays are especially important for children. Between the ages of 3 and 10, kids look forward to their special day as it is often associated with gifts, cake, candles and having a party with friends. When I was little, my parents always planned a lovely birthday party with special attention to every detail. I remember those special birthdays in Greenfield Park fondly. The first birthday while I was in college was one which struck me. It fell mid week and no-one knew it was my birthday. It was the saddest birthday I can remember. My parents called me that evening and were most apologetic that we could not celebrate in the usual fashion. It was then that I realized that a birthday was in fact just like any other day and that it was really thanks to my loved ones that my birthday had always been special and celebrated.
As the years went by, my birthday and any celebration became less important to me. I no longer enjoyed my birthday as I had when I was younger. Although I loved planning for my husband and kids’ birthdays by making their favorite food and having friends over, I did not enjoy doing much on my own birthdate.
The events of the last 2 years changed my perspective on many things in my life. After my breast cancer diagnosis in 2021, I could no longer take my health for granted and I had to take the time necessary to take care of myself and to get my wellness back under control. It’s funny how dealing with a difficult period in life can put everything into a new light.
I celebrated my 53rd birthday at the height of my chemotherapy. It was a special birthday that year for so many reasons. It was just after my second chemo and my hair had all fallen out. My family was so concerned with my prognosis and I am sure that they wanted to celebrate my birthday with as much joy as possible as the future was so unsure. My sister bought me a Wonder Woman outfit and had me dress up and take pictures. I humored her and got dressed up but in truth it was a symbolic vote of confidence that I was going to try to be indestructible with my super powers to fight cancer. When I look back on these photos from 2 years ago, I can say that I have come a long way. When a family member has cancer, the whole family suffers deeply. I thank God everyday for seeing me through that time of my life. I used to say ”Your will be done ” but I knew that I was going to fight it all the way with everything I could.
Over the course of 9 months I have lost 2 very close friends who were fighting breast cancer at the same time as I was. Their passings have both been painful and I grieve their premature absence in my Life. Our similar prognosis drew us close. My two cancer buddies did not know each other but I would speak to each of them about the other. We could understand and support one another through the difficult days. We would exchange home remedies and talk about things that helped us get through the rough days. I formed a sisterhood through breast cancer with these two special women. As human beings have no control over the destiny which life holds for us. What we do have control over is how we process and move forward with the prognosis. My friends were different from each other; one was my age and the other was 20 years older. One like me had stage 4 cancer and the other had early stage cancer for the second time. One of my friends lamented time and again on how she had lived her life eating all natural organic foods and being mindful of carcinogens. She was an athlete and took very good care of herself. She could not understand her diagnosis which would eventually take her life. We laughed and lived as we could in the time we convalesced. I never once suspected that she would not make it. Suddenly, a brain tumor developed and it was inoperable. Her cancer became malignant and quickly spread throughout her body affecting all of her organs. She wanted to live but in her last correspondence to me she said that she had accepted God’s will.
A month ago I lost my other very close friend in a very similar way to this vile cancer. We celebrated her last birthday in October and praised her at how well she looked and she seemed to have overcome the last bout of cancer which had returned this time to her bones. Things were not to continue this way and she too discovered a brain tumor shortly after her last birthday. I was so privileged to be with her on the last day of her life and I vowed that I would do my very best to live my life to the fullest for both of us. Although we had known each other for over 30 years after meeting at university, it was cancer that specifically brought us even closer. Although breast cancer is one of the most researched and funded cancers, people die everyday from the ravages of this type of invasive cancer. Not all treatments work for every patient. Each individual cancers may seem similar but are not exactly the same. No two patients following the same course of treatment will have exactly the same outcome either. After seeing what I have of the pain and suffering of cancer, I can never take life for granted. Everyday alive and well is a gift. Every birthday alive is to be celebrated.
Life is a journey on the road which may sometimes be smooth and clear however we have no idea of the obstacles or detours which may lie ahead. The challenge is how well we can navigate through the chaos. I have learned that both positive and negative experiences are meant to serve as life lessons to make us grow. I know that it takes courage to live life boldly but if we can muster the strength to do so the challenge somehow finds a way to propel yourself forward. I have found that the things that keeps us strong in the face of adversity are hope and love and in the end; that is all that matters.
As I celebrate another trip around the sun this April 14, I realize that I have lived more than half of my life. What the future holds I do not know but I shall continue to use the life lessons that I have learned through cancer journey and being grateful and thankful in my life everyday. I am blessed with a loving family and supportive friend group. In a few months I will celebrate 2 years of being cancer free. Every 3 months I meet with my oncology team. I have learned to be the best advocate of my own health. If I notice something irregular I take it seriously and have it checked out. Early detection means early action and I value my life. Although medication is a part of my daily life, I realize every single day how far I have come. I have taken quite a few trips over the past year. I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to do things on my bucket list. I realize that I do not want to regret not doing certain things when the opportunity presents itself. Too often there exists a tendency to put off things for another time. In many instances the next time does not come around again. To you my friends, I remind you to live each day to the absolute fullest. Enjoy the little simple things as well. Not all of the most memorable things are grandiose.
In closing, thank you all for being supportive and kind. I am immensely grateful to you for being part of my journey in this lifetime. Life is a blessing and to live to old age is an even greater gift. By finding purpose in Life everyday, and living with mindfulness and kindness we can not only bring more meaning to our own lives but also to those around us.