A Surprise (and Surprising) 60th

Recently, my mom celebrated her 60th birthday. And for someone who had less than a 50/50 chance of survival a few years ago, this milestone birthday definitely meant a lot more to our family than previous birthdays. But I suppose that is one of the things about cancer: it changes so much of our world and what we see in it, things that once were simple or taken for granted develop a whole new meaning. And this is one of the “good” things to come out of my mom’s cancer journey.

Setting the stage for the big surprise

So, a few months before my mom turned 60, my father contacted me and asked if I could fly home as a surprise for my mom. Apparently, when my dad asked my mom what she wanted for her birthday, her answer was to have her best friend and me fly in for her birthday. Basically, she wanted her nearest and dearest to be there to celebrate her milestone birthday. To provide some context, my parents live in the north of the UK, I live in the Netherlands, and my mom’s best friend lives on a tiny island called the Isle of Man, which is situated between the UK and Ireland.

My dad and brother were the only ones who knew would be flying in to surprise my mom. I told her that because of work commitments and deadlines, I would be unable to be there for her birthday. And, as always, she was understanding and didn't let this negative news get her down. I promised I would fly over later in the year to visit her and to celebrate when work permitted.

The anticipation was building as I got closer

So the stage was set for her surprise. And this was the first time I had ever flown home without informing her. As I boarded the plane in Amsterdam, I couldn't wait to see the look on her face when I showed up. The flight to the UK went without a hitch. Everything left on time, my train was waiting for me when I got to Manchester station. Everything ran like clockwork.

As I arrived in my hometown and walked down my parents' street, the street where I grew up, grazed my knees, fell off bikes, skateboards and any other thing with wheels (I was extremely accident prone as a child), the excitement started to build. I couldn't wait to see her, hug her and celebrate her birthday. Because the one thing that cancer teaches us is that life isn't guaranteed and it can be extremely unfair. But today wasn't a day for those thoughts. Today was a day to celebrate. And that is exactly what we did.

There were so many reasons to celebrate and we did just that

For the next two days we chatted, laughed, popped bottles of champagne and just did our best to enjoy our time together. It was an incredible couple of days. But what was more incredible was the fact that my mom was still there standing before me after everything she had been through. When she was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 bladder cancer, the prognosis was not good. We didn't know if she was gonna make it to her next birthday, let alone 60!

In some strange way, I feel like I should say thank you to cancer for teaching me to enjoy the moment. To make the most of the time we have together, and to always try to see the lighter side of life. Because each birthday is a surprise and we never truly know which birthday will be our last. So thank you cancer for giving me a new appreciation of the world and the people in it. Being able to celebrate this 60th birthday was definitely a surprise for my mother, but also for all of us because she's still here. She beat the odds. She is now 7 years cancer free and through this, we are now all better than ever.

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