a year ago, i couldn’t possibly have imagined spending my 28th birthday in bed. but here i am, taking heavy doses of anti-nausea meds to combat the effects of the chemotherapy. and taking regular helpings of edible medical marijuana because the anti-nausea meds aren’t doing the trick by themselves.
thinking back, maybe i could have known, should have known a year ago. i remember, on my 27th birthday, limping unsteadily in heels down washington boulevard from rush street to the kirk douglas theater, barely able to keep my left ankle from rolling, without understanding why. i knew that something was wrong, but i didn’t yet know what. six months later — to the day — october 4, 2010, i would be told, “my dear, you have a brain tumor.”
but exactly one year ago, on my 27th birthday, i had only the faintest awareness of how much i took for granted, how much my life was going to change. i had already begun shedding the trappings and lifestyle of the old me, simply out of necessity: i’d stopped wearing flip flops by then. they were one of the first things to go. already, at that time, i was losing control over the finer motor movements in my left foot, wasn’t able to point my toes, didn’t have the grip necessary to keep the flip flops on my foot.
soon after, one by one, pieces of my life started falling away: i could no longer run, do yoga, hike, play tennis, ski, walk in heels, descend stairs, walk in the sand, and, finally, several months later, i couldn’t even ride my bike. (isn’t riding a bike supposed to be the thing you can always do, no matter what else changes?)
for a while, none of this really had time to sink in because i was busy trying to find out what was wrong — visiting doctors, having tests, going to physical therapy, dealing with insurance companies and medical bills.
then, after the diagnosis, after the biopsy that followed just eight days later, i could barely even walk. chemotherapy started, the time spent in bed started piling up, and it had time to sink in. and in and in and in.
perhaps the most bittersweet pill to swallow has been the loss of independence. bitter because at the age of 28, one does not expect to need assistance in order to survive. but sweet because of the accompaniment of unanticipated pain with unanticipated joys:
the knowledge that a tough day becomes much easier in the company of good friends.
the realization that people are happy to help, if only i’ll let them.
the experience of gratitude and appreciation for a kindness rendered.
the succor of allowing myself to be lifted up.
the exhilaration that accompanies each small, physical accomplishment: a hurdle jumped, a barrier broken.
the moments alone, thinking.
the conversations that otherwise would have been taboo, or just irrelevant.
the understanding that the choice to be happy is mine alone, but that there are others who will help make happiness possible.
the opportunity to explore my values and priorities and purpose.
the chance to find out that the trappings and activities that were part of my life don’t define me, and aren’t what make others love me.
the anticipation of what lies ahead, the discovery of new possibilities in the unknown.
so, 29th year of life, i welcome you, with all your knowns and unknowns. may this year be a year of addition, and not of subtraction; a year of rebirth, and not of death.
snake and moon both die to the old, shed their shadow to be reborn. – joseph campbell