Tomorrow is my birthday. The fact that it is on Friday the 13th makes me very nervous. I am considering not leaving my house, which is quite impossible as I have to run a Valentines Day craft in my daughters class and my friends are taking me out to celebrate later that night. Still, I could very easily stay under the covers and not surface until it becomes Saturday the 14th. I suppose, though, it can not be worse then my birthday last year. I don’t like remembering my birthday last year but unfortunately it has been on my mind all week, playing out like a b-rated movie:
I see myself sitting on the edge of my bed. I remember feeling happy that my mastectomy surgery was almost two weeks behind me and that I finally had my 2nd drain removed. Soon I would be running again.
I remember hearing the phone ring and walking to the hall to answer it, knowing I was alone –Mark had gone back to work after taking care of me for so many days and the kids were in school.
I smiled when I heard Dr. Christian’s voice assuming he was checking on my well being, returning to the chair next to my bed to sit and chat with the surgeon I had become so fond of . I felt forever indebted to him for removing all the cancer from my body.
But he did not call to chat.
“The lymph nodes which on initial inspection were clean, showed, on further investigation to be cancerous,” he said.
“You will need to come back in for further surgery. We will need to take more lymph nodes to see how far the cancer has spread.”
I remember the panic and devastation. I remember crying, thinking there was no way that I could handle another surgery. More surgery, more anesthesia, another drain, the possibility of lymphedema– thoughts that bounced around my brain, exploding like popcorn kernels in hot oil.
I remember the rain. A heavy and hard driving rain that lasted all day. The kind of rain that makes you think about Arks.
Friends starting showing up to console me, family members called. Everyone wanted an explanation. How could this be. We all thought the lymph nodes were clean; we had celebrated that fact.
“But it’s my birthday” I said to anyone who would listen. It didn’t seem fair.
The next day, I remember talking to my angel, Maryanne, from the Brigham who you may remember, helped me so much with the first surgery. She tried to console me and allay my fears of more surgery, more cancer, and the increased risk of lymphodema. She said something that at the time seemed so far in the distance that it was unfathomable.
” This time next year,” she said, “when this is all behind you, you should plan a trip, go somewhere and relax. Try to focus on that now and think about a year from now when this is all said and done; focus on a vacation or getaway.”
She was right of course. At the time I still had so many hurdles to jump, some I couldn’t even see, so it didn’t seem possible. But she was right. She knew that a year is a long time and that people recover, scars heal, hair grows back, and life goes on. So here I sit facing down another birthday a year later. And I am ok. I got through that surgery and 3 others after that. It truly amazes me when I remember this past year and what I have been through. Sometimes the memories make me sick to my stomach, sometimes they make me cry, and sometimes, they make me smile when I think of just how strong I have become. That day was only one of many disappointing days filled with bad news but somehow I got through each catastrophe. Instead of each blow making me weaker,the opposite happened. With each scary premise I faced down, I grew more resiliant.
Tomorrow it will be “this time next year” and I am taking my family skiing for the weekend, just like Maryanne said I should. It is not a trip we can really afford financially but emotionally I can’t afford NOT to take this trip. And tomorrow, instead of worrying that it is Friday the 13th, I will be thankful that I am a year older and many years wiser.