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My Birthday Epiphany

At 56, after two bouts of cancer, I realized something about my life.
PUBLISHED February 20, 2019
As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.

I spent the two days before my birthday complaining that I was getting older. 56. How did I get to be 56? Yesterday, I was playing office in a big apple tree with Billy Buford; we were five, I was the secretary and he was the boss. Billy was perched in a high branch of the blooming tree, and I sat in a lower place. After that, we played “kick the can” with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.

My actual birthday was quiet. It was on a Sunday; my husband let me sleep in until noon and he did all the housework for that day. It was a refreshing break. My mother staged a party for me and my whole family was there. We ate turkey pot pie, homemade coleslaw and chocolate cake. My brothers gave me money, which I'd use to have my hair dyed next month. One of the features of being 56 was a full head of gray hair. I had to have it colored every month or I'd look really old.

Only seven years ago, I was completely bald from chemotherapy during my first bout of breast cancer. My hair grew back slowly and for the last few years, it's been thin. Recently, I've been taking multi-vitamins and my hair is getting thick again.

Blowing out my candles, I made a wish. They say that if you tell people what your wish is, it won't come true. Well, I'll tell you. I wished that I'd write and publish a book this year

On my birthday, I was also kind of sad that I was growing old. I was a member of AARP and I got the senior discount at the thrift store. People thought I was my 14-year-old son's grandma.

But this morning, I woke up and something was completely different. It wasn't the weather; it was the same old Ohio grey, gloomy skies during the middle of a 25-degree winter. It wasn't my morning destination; I was driving to school to teach writing at a local college. It wasn't my choice of radio station; Sirius Radio Broadway channel played "There's No Business Like Show Business."

What was different was something I had realized. I, Laura Yeager, had an epiphany. I was a two-time cancer survivor. I should be happy to turn a year older. I should be kissing the ground that I made it to a new year! Not everyone who'd been through chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy made it out alive. I was alive.

Now, as I'm cruising along to work, I am embracing the passage of time. It's either grow old or die.

I'm hoping to be around for a while. Longevity runs in my family. My mother is 87, still drives a car and has an independent life. My great grandmother lived to be 102. She lived on her own until she turned 100. I'm hoping the longevity overrules the cancer. I'm hoping to become an old lady.

So, in a nutshell, it's “happy birthday to me.” Yes, I'm a year older, but that's the point. I survived another 365 days.

Here's to another 365.

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