Before my birthday last year I unofficially decided that I should do something exciting and celebratory every year for my birthday. It doesn’t take much for me to get excited, so that didn’t seem like a tall order. I feel like I should celebrate on my birthday because each new birthday from now on, will not just be another year I that I am older, it will be another year that I have survived. That I have lived. I said this in my birthday post last year but it seemed worth reposting. I don’t like to dwell on this too much, but it’s good to remember occasionally. And my two-year cancerversary is coming up.
Last year I celebrated another year of being alive by going to my old college town, spending time with good friends, and seeing one of my favorite bands play. And drinking a beer. This year i’m celebrating in Chicago, enroute to a health care and social media conference where I will be one of the keynote speakers (more about that later).
Chicago. I love Chicago. And I have gushed about it here before but it seems worth reposting: I lived here for three years before I moved to L.A. two years ago. I think I love Chicago so much not because it is an awesome city (though that’s part of it), but because it represents the only time in my life that I was a not-sick adult. The girl I was in Chicago didn’t know what neuroendocrine cancer was–even though it was growing inside her even then. She worried about how to get around, and keeping her finances under control, and what she was going to do after work and on the weekends.
Still, as I have walked (and bussed and trained) around Chicago this weekend, it has felt a little bit like I could still be that girl. Like I never left Chicago. I wear the same jacket, the streets are still called the same thing, the buses and trains still make the same stops, I don’t need to map where any of the stores and restaurants I used to visit are located because I still know where they are and how to get there. And I know what to order because the menus are still the same. I commented to my friend as we were walking around my old neighborhood Friday night, “It feels like no time has passed. Like nothing that happened the past two years actually happened.” I was so delighted that everything was just as cool as I had left it that I texted my (new) boyfriend, “Don’t be surprised if I just stay.”
I don’t really want to stay here, though. Maybe the city hasn’t changed much, but I have changed. And if I lived here again my life would be a lot different than my life was before. I am intimately acquainted with neuroendocrine cancer and my life has become a lot more complicated, and in some ways, a lot simpler, because of it. Also, I don’t really mind L.A. (dare I say like..?). I would miss being close to my family. I would miss my (new) boyfriend and my friends and my new neighborhood and the ocean and the Expo Line. And it is markedly colder here in Chicago and it rained all weekend. Rain is annoying–it doesn’t rain in L.A.
Back to the point. I am here, though, so I can attend and speak at the Health Care Social Media Summit in Rochester, Minnesota this week (I’ve never been to Minnesota before!). My life now may be a lot more complicated than it was when I lived here before, but still i’m returning to Chicago victorious. I got cancer, but I made the best of the situation. I’m speaking at a conference! I’m talking about cancer in front of a lot of people! That’s pretty darn cool. It’s certainly progress from last year at this time, and it’s definitely progress from two years ago.
I went to a copy/print/send shop yesterday to print up some business cards for the conference. I used to live across the street from this particular shop and when I was moving I hauled my moving boxes across the street, a few per day, to ship them back to California. As I was sitting there yesterday loading my card design, I saw in my head a ghost of myself two years ago, sending boxes. I had just started feeling my pre-diagnosis cancer symptoms at that time (nausea and vomiting), and I was sick and worried about what was happening to my body and whether I was making the right choice attending grad school. Two years later: I have cancer but i’m feeling great. I almost have a master’s degree. I’m speaking at a conference. I have shiny new business cards that say “writer speaker liver” on them.
And i’m 27. Life is pretty great.