I turned forty-five yesterday, which is starting to feel like a pretty significant chunk of time spent whirling around the sun, feeling the seasons change over and over again. I’ve passed in and out of a few life stages by now, enough so that I feel like I’ve maybe even learned a few things, and had some pretty significant experiences. (Oh, but there’s so much more to learn and do....I intend to pack it all in as much as I can for as long as I can!)
In many ways, yesterday was just another day (albeit with a somewhat more sparkly than usual outfit). I did the same things I always do on a Wednesday: appointments, errands, lunch with my Dad, playing mom taxi, supervising homework...and trying to fit in a little writing somewhere. But in other ways, yesterday felt different. Special. It was my birthday which is always a great excuse for me to practice being “all about me”, but as anyone who’s read this blog in past years knows, my birthday is also my “cancer-versary”: the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. This particular birthday marked twenty-two years since I heard those fateful words from a doctor I’d met only once before: “the bad news is, it’s cancer.” Twenty-two years is a long time. I was only twenty-three when I was diagnosed. That means that this time next year, I’ll have spent more of my life being a cancer survivor than not. Huh. That’s trippy for me to think about, especially when I think about the way that this experience and this identity marker has ebbed and flowed and affected my life. I’m still here, which is awesome—no, I really mean that adjective, for once: I am full of awe. How did that happen? I could so easily have not been here, if things had gone even a little differently twenty-two years ago. Or I could be here but in a completely different space, more painful, less growth-ful. Life is so delicate, so complex and mysterious in its unfurling, clear only occasionally and even then mostly just in reconstructive hindsight. What’s cool, though, is that every year on my birthday, the day that has become my personal contemplative holiday, I am able (in fact, encouraged) to access those feelings of awe and mystery again, and that is a gift I was given. Given gratis, just because, with no judgment around how hard I fought or didn’t fight for healing, or whether I “deserved” either the cancer or the resultant epiphanies. It was just given, and the other awesome thing is that it keeps being given to me, if I only look for it. So here I am, looking.
I wrote a pretty good piece on last year’s birthday about my takeaway lessons from the cancer experience twenty years down the road, and I don’t have any huge new breakthrough epiphanies to add to that list. But what I have noticed, as I look in the rear-view mirror and see this life-changing event receding farther and farther down the road, is how I have incorporated all those lessons into my outlook on life now. It has been a gradual change, a slow motion dancing with destiny, like the way a tree will sculpt itself into a particular arch as it reaches away from the shade and into the light. I’m still the same tree, rooted in the same soil, but I’ve spent a long time reaching—stretching—for additional nourishment as I grow. My overall shape is different now than it once was, even though it’s made from the same bark and branches, leaves and sap.