A woman sits on a birthday cake, holding a heart in her arms.

Truly Loving My Birthday Once Again

To anyone who knows me well, I have always loved birthdays. I am writing this a few days before my 46th birthday. In fact, I always liked to think I have a "Birth Week" - a whole week to celebrate another year of life.

I have never gotten hung up on age. Age is just a number. Yes, of course, landmark birthdays like turning 40 make you think, "Oh, I am getting a bit older." I remember being at school at a young age when someone said their dad was turning 40, and I thought it was so old!

However, the first-time birthdays and age became a big and less positive thing for me. I was in the hospital for my birthday in 2017, turning 41.

The juxtapositioning

A year on from all the lovely celebrations for my 40th birthday, things couldn't have been more different. As the clock struck midnight on my birthday, I had never felt more alone. Everyone in the ward was sleeping. I pulled the bed covers over my face, and I sobbed and sobbed.

I was still adjusting to the devasting news of my late-stage bladder cancer diagnosis 3 weeks earlier. The overriding thought was that this birthday-loving girl was going to spend possibly her last ever birthday in the hospital, so ill, with no certainty of seeing this coming Christmas, never mind another birthday.

Despite being in the hospital, when asked, I told people I still wanted my birthday to be acknowledged. Everyone was so kind and visited with cards, presents, and even a cake.

It was overwhelming, and I wasn't emotionally capable of dealing with it. After everyone had left and darkness fell, I was filled with such sorrow.

That night alone and in tears

After my surgery, life slowly but surely got back to normal in many ways. One thing, however, which remained so difficult was my birthday. Not my birthday itself as much but the lead up to it.

The diagnosis, the testing, the meetings, the difficult conversations, the surgery, and so much more were how the month looked in the lead up to my birthday that year. Each year that has followed has been truly very difficult for me.

It takes me right back to that night alone and in tears in the ward. It reminds me of why I was there. It reminds me of what happened during the emotional rollercoaster from September to November that year.

Like a bright unwanted beacon when you are trying to sleep, that overwhelming feeling of knowing at that time there was a real chance it was my last birthday has haunted me every year. That's right. I said "haunted" past tense as it is now just that.

Loving my birthday again

I sat at the weekend, planning the week. As I was checking my coming week's work schedule and planning our trip away next weekend for my birthday, something felt strange - a good, strange.

I realized that the enormous black cloud that used to loom over me in the weeks preceding my birthday every year had been lifted. Instead of looking back, I was looking forward.

Celebrating life after bladder cancer

It felt natural to reflect on that period whenever it would come around again. In some ways, I was annoyed it still bothered me. Annoyed, the joy of the anticipation of my birthday had been taken from me. I also felt annoyed I was still feeling that way.

Last year, I cut myself some slack and reminded myself the "all clear" doesn't wipe away what you have been through. It doesn't get you over the finish line of recovery. It gives you the strength to recover in your own time and at your own pace.

So, you see, this year took me by a pleasant surprise. Perhaps the fact I realized how long I had been putting pressure on myself to "get over" those feelings allowed me to do just that. Whatever the reason, I can say I am genuinely loving my birthday once again. In fact, I am loving it even more than I ever did.

I have changed my thoughts; age isn't just a number. It is a precious reminder of the truly best gift you can ever ask for, another year on this Earth - the gift of life.

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