Today is my 42nd birthday. Important to know that historically, my birthday is my favorite holiday. I realize it hasn’t been nationally recognized, but I do consider my birthday a holiday, as I think everyone should. I really love the pomp and circumstance that I basically demand around my birthday. This started when I was very young. I called my birthday “happy day boon day” which was my amalgamation of ‘happy birthday’ and ‘balloons.’ It was and remains fucking adorable. Fast forward to last year. I made May The Fourth Be With You shirts for my entire family and made them wear them to my birthday dinner. I’m sorry, my birthday is just a big deal.
This year however, I am pretty much straight pissed. You are going to say to yourself now, ‘Geez Grace, you are one of the lucky ones who has treatable disease and it’s a blessing to even have a birthday.’ We will get there. This post is going to be a journey with an arc so stick with me.
I am pissed that my favorite day is 6 days after my last chemo and a day before my next. I am pissed that I have 11 more weeks of chemo and then who knows how many days of radiation after that. I am pissed that this entire year will be spent dealing with the fallout from a second cancer diagnosis. I am pissed that instead of asking for a weekend trip away for a present, I am asking for sensible shoes.
It is less about the day and more about the year. I had to phone in 36 with Cancer Uno and now I have to phone in 42 for the same reason. 2 really good years. And let’s be real, it isn’t just the year, it is the life you lead after. It is altered by the disease in so many ways we have already discussed.
I think back to my birthday last year. I had no idea that a 5cm tumor was growing in my body. I was so happy. I was carefree, honestly. At the time I didn’t know it, but in hindsight, I really was. I let people fete me and had a strong and able body with which to celebrate. I had a summer in front of me filled with adventurous trips to show my kids where I went to college in Colorado, a week on a houseboat on Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. I was looking forward to hiking and swimming. This year I have been instructed to stay far away from the sun and, based on recent history, I spend more days of the week in bed than I do upright.
The birthday sort of encapsulates the year. And this year sucks.
But here is the rub… there was about a week when my doctors and I were very concerned that I had metastatic disease. Most logical signs pointed to a grim outcome. I sat in my bed and wept, thinking that I could have cancer that traveled to other parts of my body thus making it chronic, terminal. It was a very real possibility.
The fact that I do not have metastatic disease feels like a miracle. No doctors will admit it as it could represent a modicum of fault on their part, but all signs point to the fact that this is my OG cancer that has grown over the past 5 years. It had five years with which to travel to other parts of my body. You know how unbelievable it is that it didn’t? Do you understand how incredibly lucky that makes me?
I know it seems stooopid to think that I would feel lucky in any way, shape or form, but guys, I am freaking lucky as hell.
All day today and in the days leading up to my birthday I would think, ‘well blargh, this sucks, what a shitty birthday’, but then the little baby genius part of my brain would pipe up, ‘bitch! you are alive and have a curable prognosis!! How dare you engage in a pity party!’.
The power that lies within that itty bitty, unselfish part of my brain is gigantic. Every time I think about how crummy this birthday is, I flash to those from the Cancer Class of 2016 who have had recurrences that are not considered curative and I metaphorically slap myself across the face. It could have been me. Like, for sho, for reals, could have been me. Hell, statistically, it could be me in the years to come. But it isn’t this year.
Is 42 a throwaway? Kind of, if you look at it in terms of accomplishments, but it is another year that I get to keep moving forward. It is a year in which my children will learn the power of empathy, perseverance, the intense kindness of others, including strangers, and human resilience. It is a year that will remind me that I am stronger than the average bear when it comes to adversity. And perhaps most importantly, it is a year that will lead to more years.
This birthday sucks, but it is also magnificent. Both can exist together. I am one year older, one year wiser, one year cancery-er. I plan to celebrate my existence and remember that I dodged another bullet. The universe needs me to struggle. Not sure why, but damn you universe, I am here for it.
Bring it 42.