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Looking Into the Future with the #AgeChallenge

How an app gives a glimpse into the future for many patients with cancer and survivors who fear they won't make it to old age.
PUBLISHED July 23, 2019
A native New Yorker, Shira Kallus Zwebner is a communications consultant and writer living with her husband and three children in Jerusalem, Israel. Diagnosed in 2017 with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, she's fighting her cancer battle and blogging about the journey at hipstermomblog.com

When the #AgeChallenge started to go viral on social media, I'll admit it amused me at first. Seeing friends and family members use the FaceApp application to manipulate their appearance and then sharing the results on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter was extremely entertaining. The age filter appeared to be most popular, although the app offered lots of other filters including aging backwards to look younger, adding facial hair, or glasses.

The majority of my friends and people I follow on social media chose to age themselves to look like they would in their eighties and nineties. Suddenly, my Facebook and Instagram feeds were full of octogenarians with thinning hair, white beards, wrinkled skin and unfamiliar appearances. Most of my friends found the results absolutely hilarious.

For me, as a cancer survivor, the option to see myself as an old lady was a glimpse into a future that I may never have. A year after entering NED (no evidence of disease) after my battle with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, my daily life includes constantly fighting the fear of recurrence. I know the statistics and they frighten me to the core; I spend my days fighting the fear that creeps uninvited into my thoughts.

I downloaded the app and applied the age filter to a selfie I took with my daughter. At the press of a button, I suddenly looked forty years older, with deep wrinkles across my face. My jowls were heavier, my eyes appeared glassy with glaucoma, with dark shadows and bags stamped beneath my eyes. With the tips of my fingers, I traced the face of eighty-year-old me and felt hopeful.

Will I make it to old age? Will this face greet me in the mirror one day? I no longer take growing old for granted, it's a privilege and not a promise. I realize how fortunate people are to make it to their golden years, especially if they're blessed to get there without health challenges.

I saved this new, old me to my photo library and then shared it with my husband. I made it a favorite so that it wouldn't get lost, and I emailed it to my eldest daughter to keep in her inbox. I sent the photo to my mother; whose response was a comical "time to start using a lot more moisturizer." Throughout the day, I kept looking at the picture and slowly I fell in love with future, old me.

I didn't see a face that needed Botox or plastic surgery, I just saw the beauty in old age. I felt hopeful that one day that face would kiss the top of the head of a new grandchild, would watch another sunset, would smile at a family celebration.

While no one is guaranteed to live to a ripe old age, cancer survivors know all too well that our odds are not the same. To see ourselves reach a milestone in life that we might never experience in real time was a gift that we can now share with future generations.

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