On my little sister’s fourth birthday, she had a bad case of the chicken pox. Very shortly after that, my other little sister and I both caught it too and I just remember spending the next week covered in that chalky pink anti-itch lotion, head to toe. We rescheduled her birthday party–at Chuck E. Cheese’s if I remember correctly–and forever after her fourth birthday was infamously known as “the chicken pox birthday.”
Today is my birthday. I am 28. I may not be quite as sick as my sister was on her sick birthday, covered in itchy red bumps, but i’m recovering from being far sicker than i’ve ever been before and will hopefully ever be again. Even when I had chicken pox. It’s “the cancer birthday.” And I don’t feel like celebrating.
I have treated the last two birthdays that I have had since I was diagnosed three years ago as celebrations of life, planning each day so I was surrounded by good friends (or friend), doing something special. Having a birthday becomes meaningful when you’re living with cancer because it’s another year of surviving. Two years ago I went to Santa Barbara and saw one of my favorite bands play. Last year, I spent the whole day traversing Chicago, visiting all of my old haunts (though both of the restaurants I wanted to go to were mysteriously closed).
This year I am living at home. Feeling worn out. Surrounded by family, but still, contemplating a minor surgery i’m having a week from today and hospital stay to hopefully correct my still-present, supremely annoying, post-surgery lung fluid problem. I stubbornly don’t want to give my 27th year the satisfaction of celebrating it. It was not a good year.
My friend turned this feeling around on me today. He said, “You should be celebrating. You’re putting your bad year behind you and now you can start fresh. 28 will be better.”
I hope he’s right. And while I would have preferred not to have experienced most of the things I experienced at 27, there are some relationships I have strenghtened and some things I wouldn’t have changed. This past weekend with my boyfriend, for example. And the weekend before that with my parents. I don’t want to start trying to find the silver lining in 27, though. It doesn’t feel genuine to the experience i’ve had. It doesn’t feel natural. It was a bad year. I thought my 25th year was bad, with being diagnosed, having major surgery, starting grad school, moving cross-country, and breaking up with two boyfriends. But 27, you take the cake. I have never been so emotionally and physically beat down.
So i’ll just leave it at this: 27–you sucked. 28–I really wish you’re better. I need a break. Cancer birthday, you have been nice, but someday you may go down in infamous birthday history. I hope to have only healthy birthdays from now on.