2006 – 20 years


In 2006 my daughter Kirtley turned 21. If I had done the math, I could have figured out that I would be celebrating my 20th year of survivorship the month she turned 21. DUH. She was in college in New York City and I was in Dallas. Every year since my diagnosis we had celebrated her birthday together somehow. And this was the big one. This was one of the negotiated years. You know what I mean. When we are diagnosed, we negotiate. Since Kirtley was only a year old when I was diagnosed, my negotiations began early. "Please let me live long enough that she will remember me." Then it went from there to – "Please let me live long enough for me to see her start school." To "Please let me live long enough to see her start high school." To "Please let me live long enough to see her start college."To "Please let me live long enough to see her turn 21."And I made it. This was a celebration year. When I called her to talk about it, we just didn't see how it would work. Wednesday, her actual birthday, she had to be in class at 10 a.m. She had a party planned on Saturday and, "no, I was not invited." We would do something special later, we decided.I tried to put it out of my mind, but there are some things that are too important to miss. Cancer had taught me the importance of now, the moment. Being present and not waiting. For years after my diagnosis in October 1986, I looked at her and tried to imagine her life without me. When I held her in my arms, the love I had for this child was from some source so deep that it could not be explained. I only knew that until she was born I did not know I could kill to protect someone I loved. Nor did I know I was capable of blowing bubbles with my spit, making faces in the mirror or missing it when she got too old to put a big red lipstick kiss on her cheek when she got out of the car in the morning to go to school. I had fought to live for her, and the days she would climb into bed with me when we cuddled were visceral memories that kept me going on many levels through life's twists and turns. The need to be with her to celebrate this occasion was mine, not hers. Because the prayer was to live to see her start school and then to remember me and then to graduate from high school – and now she was her own woman. But it was also a huge year for me. Two decades of survivorship and I wanted to be with her to celebrate. It was decided.I called her roommates and had them promise to keep her at home the night before her birthday. They did. I took the last flight from DFW and was in front of her brownstone in Harlem at 11:50 p.m. I called her on my cell phone from the sidewalk where the door to her basement apartment under the front steps was only a few yards away. We commiserated about not being together on her birthday, and then I said, "Well, if you wish really hard, I think you might find me on your door step." I heard her scream from inside the apartment and then she flew out the front door. She hugged me, saying over and over. "I can't believe you're here." Yep, I said, I'm here. We talked, slept, had breakfast and then she went to class and I went back to the airport. $400 round trip from Dallas to New York City$50 round trip cab ride to her apartment$50 for breakfast for 2$100 birthday money from momBeing with my daughter on her 21st birthday. Priceless.

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