Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
Since my cancer diagnosis at the age of 32, I put a little target on turning 40. It was more like a hope. I hoped I’d get the chance to celebrate being 40.
I recently hit a milestone birthday. I turned 40 at the end of February. Yes, I brag about it. I know that is not necessarily the norm, but after having cancer, what is? Well, I guess this new-found love for getting older would be part of what people call my “new normal.” Since my cancer diagnosis at the age of 32, I put a little target on turning 40. It was more like a hope. I hoped I’d get the chance to celebrate being 40.
I’ve been looking forward to that number for a long time and was a bit scared of it, too. I really wasn’t sure I’d make it. At the time of my cancer diagnosis, a year seemed unlikely, let alone another eight. So, I figured I’d make turning 40 my goal and see what happens from there. As it got closer with each passing birthday, it seemed more likely that it would happen, and I got more excited. Friends around me started hitting 40, and many had a different take on it. They complained, seemed sad and depressed, and all out just not interested in the big 4-0. I couldn’t understand why. When I’d ask, they would say it was depressing to be “over-the-hill” and see themselves so much older. Some would go on and on about how they were dreading it and didn’t want to celebrate. I’m not going to lie — when I would hear this, it was infuriating. I know that many people don’t understand life as cancer survivors nor do I expect them to. However, hearing people complain about hitting a milestone birthday has different meaning to me these days. Just knowing that many people I have known over the years never got the chance to get to 40 is hard to think about. Some never got the chance to see what 30 looked like. After hearing the complaints of turning 40, I knew exactly what I needed to do – CELEBRATE!!
And so I did. I looked at 40 as if it were gold. I invited people to join me in celebration. I threw myself a party. I made sure everyone was laughing, smiling and enjoying the night, as I certainly did. On my actual birthday, I woke up and smiled. I made it. I had a smile plastered to my face the entire day. My face hurt a little when all was said and done that day. I took a few moments to reflect on how far I had come since that dreadful day in 2010 when I was told I had cancer. I reflected on the many people I have come to know over the years that did not make it to 40. I know they wanted to. I know they would not have complained about seeing 40 years old attached to their life. I paused to think about the others I know that won’t make it to 40. I made sure to celebrate extra hard and remember that turning 40 is a part of life, if we are so lucky enough to hit that milestone age.
There will always be people complaining about getting to live another year. I say it that way because they don’t realize just how lucky they are. So, as another year approaches, don’t dread it, celebrate it. And those milestone age markers — 30, 40, 50 or whatever the milestone age is to you – celebrate it. Enjoy it. Live it for yourself and for those that never got the chance. As I stand hand in hand with 40, I hope. I look forward. I am anxious to see more milestones and see the aging process as a gift.