Another Birthday, Another Cancerversary

The cancer roller coaster was in full swing this weekend.

Saturday was my 42nd birthday. I had a lovely day celebrating by having some friends over for brunch. It’s exactly how I wanted to spend my day – eating the food I love with a few people I love and love me dearly.

Over the last 3 years, I’ve learned to spend more time doing what I want to do and say no to the things I don’t want to do. And that’s what this birthday was about.

Then Sunday was my three-year anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer. This year’s anniversary was a bit easier than last year. I feel more stable these days, more like my pre-cancer self. I’m feeling good, exercising regularly, traveling, going out with friends, staying up past 9 p.m. (watch out!)

Having said that, I know all too well not to get conceited with cancer. Yes, I’m grateful that I caught my breast cancer early and have survived. But early detection doesn’t always mean a lifetime of survival. Women (and men) survive breast cancer in the breast. When breast cancer spreads to other organs, or metastasizes, that’s when people die of breast cancer. And as I’ve learned from my research and Twitter friends, 30% of early stage breast cancer returns as metastatic breast cancer. There’s currently no cure for metastatic breast cancer. And only 2% of funding for breast cancer research goes to metastatic breast cancer research. That’s gotta change, for all of our sakes.

I’m painfully award that breast cancer will follow me around for my lifetime, with both physical and mental scars. I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘done’ with cancer, whether that’s in the metaphorical sense or the literal sense. But I hope I’m one of the lucky 70% where my early detection doesn’t return with a metastatic stage. I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that.

So for now I’ll celebrate these important anniversary milestones. Birthdays are, by definition, a celebration of live. I always loved my birthday, and now it takes on even more meaning for me. Another year with my family and friends. Another year of making my dreams come true. Another year of good health. These are no small victories.

So while everyone else complains about the grey hairs during their birthdays, I’m grateful to have more time to do the things I still want to do and to grow old.

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Birthdays Are Now Bittersweet

Tomorrow is my 41st birthday. It’s also the day before I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

I used to love my birthday. Since I was a kid, my mom always made a big deal of birthdays. They were fun and special. But that was before cancer came into my life. Now my birthdays are bittersweet with new significance.

Every birthday is now a big fuck you to cancer. Another year I’ve survived. Another year that I’m able to be around to talk about having had cancer. Another year that I’m able to keep dreaming about growing old.

Tomorrow is only my 2nd birthday having survived cancer. So I feel like I’m still figuring out the roller coaster of being a cancer survivor and being able to celebrate my birthday without getting upset that the day after is my diagnosis day. It’s hard to separate the two days.

Two years ago, I felt my lump a week before my birthday. My friends and family wanted to celebrate my birthday, but I knew that a diagnosis was coming. So I didn’t much feel like celebrating. I couldn’t stop crying about what I knew would be a change for the worse in my life. Even though the results weren’t in yet, I just knew I was in for a long treatment for breast cancer.

Last year, I had finished chemo and radiation just two months before my birthday. My hair was starting to come back, which felt great, but I was just beginning to deal with everything I had gone through. It wasn’t until after I was finished with treatment that I could attempt to process what had just happened. So, by the time my birthday came around, I was trying to make sense of what I went through and couldn’t stop crying about it.

But this year, I’m looking forward to celebrating my birthday The usual things will happen, as they have all my life – people will call to tell me happy birthday and how much they love me. I’ll get cards in the mail or emails wishing me a great day. I’ll go out for dinner with people I love, a great reminder of how lucky I am to have amazing people in my life.

And I’m sure I’ll be crying again this year, but this time those tears will be grateful tears. Grateful that I’m here to celebrate another birthday. Grateful that I’m cancer free (fingers crossed that lasts for another 41 years). Grateful that I have so many wonderful people who support me in happy times and tough times.