Celebrating the Gift of Each New Birthday
Each new birthday is now a cause for celebration.
In early September, it will be my birthday. Not a big one maybe, but still, I will be a year older. That’s something that would’ve freaked me out fifteen years ago, but a cancer diagnosis in 2011 totally changed my outlook on life. I now see each new milestone as a blessing.
From the tender age of 18, I hated celebrating my birthday. I was a perfectionist with big dreams and so many things to accomplish that with each passing year, I felt that I was running out of time.
Turning 30 was bittersweet. I had already checked quite a few boxes on my to-do list: I had moved from France to San Francisco, finished law school, was admitted to the California bar, and got a job in a firm specializing in environmental protection. Along the way, I made new friends, fell in love, and moved to a quaint apartment. But I kept wanting more. The next step was to get married, have kids, move to a nice house, and get a dog. I was on a roll and everything had to happen fast before it was too late.
In a matter of just a few days, my world came crashing down and I had to learn to let go. Receiving a cancer diagnosis felt like being handed a death sentence. I was told that my tumour was aggressive and that the road to full recovery would be bumpy. I began living one day at a time as best as possible; trying to find one thing to look forward to each morning instead of focusing on the many side effects of the treatments.
After I started chemotherapy, the healthy and fit young woman that I once was transformed herself into an old lady. Every single part of my body ached and there were times when I could barely make it out of bed. I lost many things, including my hair, nails, and my fertility. I became forgetful, living in a constant fog. On my bad days, I wondered how many years, months, or even weeks I had left to live. On my good days, I was happy each morning to still breathe normally.
I could no longer envision a future, so thinking about making it to my next birthday was not an option.
After a year in the trenches, however, I received the all-clear from my doctors, but I was exhausted and did not have the force to celebrate the fact that I was getting a year older a few days later. The recovery was long and even now, some ten years later, the fear of recurrence is always in the back of my mind.
Eventually I got better and on my 40th birthday, I organised a big party with friends, family, and colleagues from the US and France. Since that joyful occasion, I have never felt more alive and young. I have been granted a new lease on life and because I now feel that I am past my expiration date, it is all about appreciating this second chance.
This long battle against the big C left me feeling vulnerable and scared but at the same time so blessed and grateful to still be on this earth. I have fewer options, but I have accepted my scars and weaknesses as well as my own limitations. Even if it is for a short period of time, I strongly believe I have much more to accomplish and do not see my life as a race anymore.
Of course, like everybody else, I hate discovering a new grey hair or a wrinkle on my face, but I have learned to put things into perspective. My body has already been through so much as a consequence of the treatments that it is now comforting to see it going through the natural process of aging.
And so let’s bring on the celebrations… Each new birthday is now a joyful reminder of how far I have come!
Photo courtesy of author.