Birthdays, like most things, feel a bit different after cancer. Before cancer, I was sometimes subject to a phenomenon my husband and I refer to as the “birthday blues.” This could take many forms, usually involving a thought pattern that would go something like, “I’m one year older and what, exactly, have I done with my life? Why don’t more people call me? Why isn’t someone throwing me a surprise party? Why can’t I get nicer presents?” And other assorted self-pitying, gloomy nonsense. (A common affliction, I think, for the August baby. I think I have some kind of PTSD from being perpetually thwarted in my childhood attempts to have a party because my friends were always on vacation on my birthday.)
Now, my birthday is just another day I am happy to be alive and feeling well – but maybe with sprinkles on top. It’s lovely and affirming to get calls from my family, text messages from friends, and this year, for the first time, all kinds of good wishes from people from my Facebook universe. (As far as that last group goes, I kind of have to wonder what is motivating these people – many of whom I never have any kind of meaningful sustained contact with – to wish me a happy birthday. Is it because they are glad I am not dead? Is it because they feel sorry for me for what I have been through?) But honestly, the best part of today may have been going to the gym first thing and having the longest run I’ve had in over a month, and feeling strong and pumped at the end. Cancer may have altered the way people relate to me (where were all of these people before I got sick?), but it has also fundamentally altered the way I relate to myself. Priorities have definitely changed.
So, as the birthday proper winds down, I am, perhaps with a little more reflexivity than usual, taking stock of my good fortune, and appreciating the love which surrounds me. I am still not quite sure how to explain the ways in which cancer has changed the way I feel about being one year older, or how I feel about the more peripheral relationships in my life, but I am certainly glad I am here to try and figure it out.