Breast cancer and melanoma survivor has many birthday wishes when she blows the candles out on her birthday cake.
Birthdays mean more since cancer, and yes, I dare to have more than one birthday wish. A lot of stuff means more since cancer, but birthdays, well, they are definitely road signs to celebrate. What did I want for my fifty-something birthday this month? Well, that list has changed since my breast cancer just over six years ago and my melanoma two years ago.
Much of what I wish for can’t be wrapped in a neat little package. I would like fewer health worries. Hah! That ended the day of my first diagnosis. Sometimes I pretend or try to remember what it felt like before cancer—you know, to feel less ongoing anxiety and worry on a daily basis. I worry for my health and find that I worry more about family and friends’ health too.
I also wish for more time with my family and friends. I wish for more time to pursue my passions. I wish for more time to reach out and connect with fellow survivors. Cancer survivors gift each other every day with understanding, empathy, support and suggestions. I am so grateful to be able to connect with other survivors.
I wouldn’t use a birthday wish for more happiness or even for less sadness. I don’t think you can fully appreciate happiness without sadness. I hold both of them side by side in my heart and I don’t spend too much time in either place. In fact, it isn’t an either-or proposition anymore. I work to experience the happiness and sadness in my life simultaneously because both are constantly present. It is like the thrill of straddling a fence and not falling off of it.
Another birthday wish would be peace. I remember my college band director praying for peace with us right before each concert. As a kid, I didn’t really get it. Now I have a better grasp of what he was praying for. Peace can be the rock of my faith for me, and, being human, peace can sometimes feel fleeting. I pray for peace now, too.
The material gifts have become a lot less important. I crave being with family members and friends. Sharing their time and experiencing something together is a true gift. Sound preachy? Well, I would rather spend an afternoon fishing with my husband or having lunch with one of my daughters than receiving something in a gift bag.
For me and for all cancer survivors, I want the obvious—cures for all the cancers out there. Until then, I want better support, care, and understanding for people during and after active cancer treatment. The Journal of the American Medical Association speaks toward this in the article Better Palliative Care for All, Improving the Lived Experience with Cancer. Let’s get better at addressing the ongoing physical, mental and emotional side effects of a cancer diagnosis. That would be an awesome birthday present.