My birthday is coming up: on Valentine's Day, I'll be 71. Most of the time, I don't think much about my chronological age-- I know I don't look like I'm in my 70s, but even if I did, I see no reason to lie about how old I am, or try to hide it. However, this birthday has a special significance for me; and although I'm looking forward to a birthday dinner, along with cake and ice cream, there's something that keeps bothering me, no matter how I try to ignore it.
In September 1989, my mother (of blessed memory) lost her battle with cancer, at the age of 71. Truth be told, not many women on my mother's side of the family have escaped getting cancer-- as many of you know, I got my cancer diagnosis in late 2014 and had surgery in mid-December of that year. Thus far, three years later, I am still cancer-free, and I feel grateful that the doctors found it in time. But that doesn't stop me from worrying about what could still happen, especially now that I'm approaching my 71st birthday.
I know it's not rational to worry-- I'm a former counselor, and I've been a motivational speaker for years, so I know all the right things to say when it's someone else who's worried. But I'm not as good at encouraging myself. Believe me, I understand that worrying doesn't solve anything. And I really do try to think positive; I try to treat each day like a gift, and use it productively. I've got all kinds of coping strategies when I find myself feeling afraid-- I have a busy schedule (I work full-time, plus I also do volunteer tutoring and mentoring); I have hobbies that I enjoy; and I have a husband who is not only my best friend but who also bakes amazing apple pies. It ain't such a bad life.
And yet... as I enter my 71st year, I can't help thinking about my mother. I remember how vibrant and active and dynamic she was (her birthday was in February, like mine); and then, almost out of nowhere, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer; and not very long after that, she was gone. I don't mean to be morbid or depressing. It's just that it was all so unexpected, and even the best doctors could do nothing for her. My situation, on the other hand, has a much more hopeful prognosis (and thus far, a much better outcome). Despite a few relatively minor health problems, I'm doing okay, and I've got no logical reason to be concerned. And yet... sometimes I am.
People often tell me I seem like such a strong person; I'm known for being there when folks are counting on me. But I'm ashamed to admit that when it comes to being a cancer survivor, I'm neither strong nor courageous. In fact, I worry more often than I should. Yes, I've learned how to hide it, and I never let it stop me. But the fear of a recurrence is still a part of my life, even though I wish it weren't. Since I don't have the ability to predict the future, maybe my 71st year on this planet will come and go uneventfully. I certainly hope it does. But I'll probably still worry sometimes, even though I know that's no way to get ready for my birthday!