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On Birthday Celebrations and Proving Oncologists Wrong

Article

After I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, clinicians told me I wouldn’t make it to my 35th birthday, but I recently did — and look forward to celebrating many more.

When I was first diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2019, my then oncologist (thou who shall not be named) said I wouldn’t make it to my 35th birthday. They said I’d be lucky to make it for three years.

Three years came and went. Now, it’s 2023, and on Jan. 26, I’ve turned 35. I outlived that negative prediction, and it feels glorious. To me, 35 is standing on top of a mountain, feeling the wind on my face, looking back at the hills I’ve climbed to get here and feeling incredibly grateful I am not here alone.

Each birthday I’ve had, I spent swallowing, simmering and shining in glitter, glory and glee of being alive to make it another year. Cancer robs us of so much hope, joy and extraordinary moments that simply being alive to make it to certain milestones is just a pure miracle.

Being 35 is even more special this year, as it's my fifth year celebrating being alive and having an amazing team of people to celebrate with. Gifts don’t matter to me, and I’m certainly not drinking alcohol anymore. This year is mocktails, a GI-friendly meal and ice cream (my weakness). I’m decorating the house in Valentine's day décor, not because I love the holiday, but I am surrounded in love and that is how I have survived cancer this far besides modern medicine. Hearts and love is so much of survivorship.

Now, do I still get upset and annoyed at the folks who said I wouldn’t make it? Sure, but it’s not worth staying angry. Nothing is worth staying angry about when you’re at stage 4. I gave up being mad about not having kids, and who needs breasts anymore? Now I happily guard my own urine when clinicians ask if I can potentially be pregnant (hah, take that hysterectomy and ER-positive status) and wear cute bralettes with padding in them when I feel like some curves. I’ve learned boundaries, self-advocacy and just to continue to embrace life for what is.

Birthdays are meant to be fun and with people you love. Birthdays are for celebrating, eating something you love, and enjoying a day to be you. Cancer does not rob us of that. During my first birthday with cancer, I still was recovering from a double mastectomy with my good ol drains in. It was a rough birthday; I was bald, boobless and feeling not beautiful. I still celebrated, but it probably was the roughest one.

Each birthday got a little easier, but looking back, I wish I would have taken more pictures and had more fun in 2019. Cancer roughed me up that year, and I had to learn to let it go. I had no idea how bad things would get, and now, it’s just incredible I am alive and here.

Another trip around the sun: for me, it’s a gift I am so thankful for, and I hope for at least another 10 of them. I hope Enhertu and more medical research gives me those opportunities, but for now, I will be forever grateful, I made it to 35, and got my five years. Take that cancer! #gracegritgratitude


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