Last updated: June 2021
In 2017 -- at the age of 36, when I received my lung cancer diagnosis, I remember thinking and hoping to see my 40th birthday. It seemed so far away and I was so very afraid I wouldn’t see Christmas of that year much less my 40th birthday four years away. I am so very happy to say that I saw my 40th birthday and celebrated well. I reached a major milestone that I was unsure I would ever see.
The tradition and importance of celebrating a birthday
Our birthdays have always been celebrated, right? We gather with family, maybe have some cake, take a trip, do something special for ourselves or allow others to do something special for us. We enjoy birthdays, don’t we! On a cancer journey, it seems as though birthdays are extra special. Where we use to fear growing older and what that next number was, we now are just happy to see that number when on a cancer journey I think regardless of our age. We embrace the wrinkles on our face, we embrace the brain fog that we can now likely blame on treatment. In fact, we gladly welcome those things. I don’t like my joint pain, but I don’t usually know if it’s me getting older or my oral chemo causing a side effect. Either way, I am happy to feel.
I remember being a young teenager and thinking that 40 was so old. Now that I am here, I realize how young it really is especially when those my age are taken from this world way too soon. Life taken from them. Birthdays are halted often abruptly. Sometimes birthdays are painful because of loss. My friend passed away on her husband’s birthday. This time of celebrating life has now turned into a day of mourning the life of his wife. Birthdays are not always celebratory for sure.
Cancer and a new perspective of celebration
On a cancer journey, we often get another date to celebrate and that is usually the anniversary each year that we received the gut punch of our lives. Most of us refer to this as our “cancerversary.” This one might mean more than our birthday in some cases. I look at it as having two birthdays! There’s a whole lot to celebrate and we should take all opportunities to do so.
I firmly believe that those of us on this journey of cancer have a great perspective shift and greater outlook on life. We are forced to appreciate every single day and celebrate everyday that we are on this earth with our loved ones. We get to celebrate life daily. We get to be present daily. We understand how delicate life can truly be. We understand what a good day looks and feels like and we focus on those days and hope for more of them. We also understand bad days. We know what it means to take one day at a time—because that is all we get anyway.
It doesn't matter how, it matters that you do
Whether we celebrate with parties and cake and presents or not, I think it’s very important to celebrate the good days. To take a good day and do something for ourselves. Sometimes just having the energy to do more normal things in a day is worth celebrating. We don’t have to do anything elaborate, but I personally feel so accomplished when I can do normal things like cooking and cleaning and doing laundry without being completely exhausted. I think exercising not only helps me physically but also my mental state when I am feeling low.
Celebrate days when cancer isn’t loud in your ear. Sometimes maybe we can forget just for a moment about cancer. Forget just for a moment about scans and chemo and treatment and surgery and going to the doctor and all the things that come alongside of this. Maybe—just for a moment we can forget. That is worth celebrating for sure.
We deserve it
I think it’s perfectly fine to celebrate ourselves. To do something special for us! We deserve it. We didn’t choose to be here. We didn’t sign on a line anywhere for this. We were unfortunately drafted. We, however, do get to choose how we respond each and every day and say we choose to celebrate. Celebrate life. Celebrate each other. Celebrate another year of kicking cancer to the curb and living fulfilling lives anyway. To live right now is to celebrate the right now. If you want to cake, I say eat it. Every day is a gift that deserves to be celebrated. Let’s Celebrate!
Happy Lung Cancer Awareness Month! What does self-advocacy mean to you?