Cancer Can Be a Living Sentence


My birthday makes me wonder about growing old — something I want to earn.

Illustration of a woman with short curly brown hair with rectangular glasses, gold hoop earrings, and pink lipstick.

On the eve of my 61st birthday, I’m thinking about growing old after cancer. I’m wondering if I’ll make it another 20 years or more, wondering if my cancer experiences literally took the “life expectancy” out of me. I’ve got a 19-year-old child. I want to see them into adulthood.

My BFF never had cancer, but she did adopt an infant at age 60. The child is now 14 months old. She too is hoping for a long life. But she’s in much better shape than me. In her fifties, she did frequent triathlons.

I have another friend who didn’t have or adopt any children of her own, but she does have two stepdaughters by marriage. This friend has a PhD and works at a university in Connecticut. She too is longing for longevity. She too has been cancer-free.

Another friend will be 63 this year. Her boys are grown and launched and in their mid-twenties. She is at the point of becoming a grandmother. This woman has also been cancer-free all her life.

I run in a 60ish crowd, but a dear friend is still 59. She’s never experienced cancer; her curse has been MS.

I could go on and on. Most of my friends have never experienced cancer, but the ones who have experienced it have passed away. Annie was my next-door neighbor growing up. She died from breast cancer when she was in her 40s. Judy also died from breast cancer. She was the librarian at my university. She was gone in her 50s. I cried at both of their funerals.

On this eve of my 61st birthday, I am happy that I’m getting up there in age and that the cancer isn’t following me.

Can I make it to 80 years-old? 90?

My mother is 92. I took her to get her hair done today. She is proof that longevity runs in the family, but she never had cancer.

At 60, going on 61, I could make all kinds of promises to eat better, exercise more, meditate and journal my stress away. I could do this, and I will.

Growing a year older allows me to start anew, to reflect on purposefully attempting to get to be an old lady. My mother looks old, but she’s earned it. She’s got pure white hair, and she walks hunched over and uses a cane. She also has a walker that she calls her “Ford.”

I’m jealous of her. If I could just make it to her age…

I believe if I have the will to age, it will help me climb into my 60s and 70s and 80s and eventually 90s. 

This aging process involves not taking anything for granted. I must do what my doctors say. Cut out sweets so that my A1C goes down. Stop eating so much butter. Get out there and take walks. Stop sleeping so much.

Beginning again. That’s what it’s all about.

And in the meantime, I’ll carry the torch for all my friends to inspire them, to tell them that if they ever get cancer, it’s not necessarily a death sentence.

In fact, it may be a “living sentence.”

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