30 Years Of “Birthdays” I Never Thought I Would See
Today is one of the last milestones I will recognize in my year of “30th Anniversary” posts, surviving Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And that is to recognize that today is my 30th birthday after being told I was in remission of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Over half of my life has been spent in the world of cancer. I have not been able to put aside the thoughts, the experiences, the memories, and just move on with my life. Because, when I did, I was always served a reminder, usually in the most extreme example.
I remember the first comment I made, having just been diagnosed a month before my birthday as well, “I don’t want to die. I will fight this and beat this.” No matter how much negativity I heard, or witnessed people’s reactions to me, hearing I had cancer, I wanted to beat this. I knew the odds of beating cancer were assumed to be difficult, though Hodgkin’s had, and still does, have a high cure rate, still too many do not survive.
My first birthday following the news of my remission, was ten times more emotional for me than when I was diagnosed. My fifth birthday, not so emotional, but more of an acceptance, and recognition, “I actually did it.” Ten years would go by, fifteen, twenty. And if I am being honest, events related to my cancer past, coming to the forefront, I never thought I would see number twenty-five. And no one is more surprised to be here, THIRTY BIRTHDAYS LATER than me. Through the ups and downs, no one can appreciate what today truly means to me, including me.
I got married, twice. I also got divorced twice. I had two houses. I lost two houses.
I was blessed to run a large youth group in my church, that trained me to prepare for teenagers of my own some day. Many of these “kids” are still friends of mine today, with kids of their own.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever run for a political office, yet I campaigned twice for school board. While I did not not win, actually lost the first campaign by 135 votes, not bad for an “unknown.” It would also be the last time I would be involved in politics.
To “give back,” I was certified by the American Cancer Society as a peer-to-peer counselor, offering personal experience in survivorship and guidance with the many issues cancer patients and survivors face.
I held a career for seventeen years until I was physically no longer able to do my job. It was work I never saw myself doing in a million years, yet, without the college degree, working in medical research, dealing with several projects in cancer, and even handling several of the drugs that I was exposed to during my treatments. Talk about coming around full circle.
I have literally met hundreds of other Hodgkin’s survivors, and know of thousands more. And the fantastic thing is that many of them are “older” than me in survivorship years (although some are younger chronologically).
I have written many things that have gotten published, but I actually got to see one of my writings be performed in a staged reading. Not too shabby for a guy whose college professor told me, “you don’t have the intelligence to write a comic strip.”
I was recognized as Honorary Survivor Chair for our local Relay For Life in recognition of my 25th year in remission. Yet another “mind blown” moment that I never would have thought I would see.
A movie waiting to be made… I had nearly fifteen years with the best fur friend anyone could ever be friends with.
But nothing, nothing, could mean more to me, thirty birthdays later, than to be blessed with my daughters.
My treatments left me unable to have children biologically, but that would not stop me from becoming a father. Even if it meant travelling across the world, twice. I definitely never saw that coming.
In 2008, I had to have emergency open heart surgery, as I was dying from a “widow maker” heart blockage caused by my treatments thirty years ago. And though that episode definitely rocked me, as far as grabbing my attention reminding me about my mortality, it also stirred up a stronger fight, to say, “not yet.”
I am so appreciative to be able to write this post today. And I have always wanted to see my next birthday, and so on. And now, as my daughters are older, I am seeing the women that they are becoming, as the choices they make today, are determining who they are going to be, and I want to be there for that. And to be able to do that, means I will have to celebrate many more birthdays. And I know it can be done. Of the many other survivors I know, so many are years ahead of me in survivorship, some, even decades longer than me. All of us agree, it has not been easy.
But I am so thankful for the life I have. I am blessed with my daughters, family, and friends too many to count, all who have gotten me here today.
There is a joke I play with my daughters, I do not tell them my actual age. They can do the math if they want to. They have the information. But one number that will definitely mean so much more to them, is thirty. Thirty years of birthdays.