Today is my 38th birthday. On my 30th birthday, I announced that my 30s were not going to be about cancer. What I meant was that cancer was a thing of my 20s, and that I was done with it, and that the changing of the initial numeral in my age was somehow going to signify a change back to pre-cancer days.
What I discovered today is that, in fact, my 30s haven't been about cancer after all, although not in the way I intended.
This morning I had a therapy session, over the phone, lying on the couch in our living room, dogs snoring softly near my feet and a mug of coffee next to me on the table, and in the context of sharing with Nancy some of the compliments I've received in the last few years from various medical personnel, she asked me a question.
"You may have heard and deserved those beautiful things, but wouldn't you not have chosen this if you could go back?"
"Well, of course," I started to say, because who would choose this? Who would actively choose to fear for her life, to the point where each body twinge or tickle is ominously suspect? Where certain options that most adults can pick from aren't available? Where life is structured, unsought, into three-week segments? Where every day involves five different pill sessions, and not a single dose wrapped in tasty treats like Spackle gets?
But I paused, and really thought about it.
For a long time, I've recognized that I've appreciated the lessons I've learned from my cancer and been grateful for the knowledge, but even so . . . I would rather have come about that knowledge in a different way. But today, this morning, when asked if I'd go back and change things, I realized this:
I like the person I am now much more than I like the person I was before my cancer. I was more selfish, less empathetic, at times heartless and mean in my self-interest. I also put up with treatment that I didn't deserve, while occasionally treating others in ways they didn't deserve.
"I am a much better person now than I was before the cancer," I said to Nancy instead. "I like myself better. I like my life better! I get to do amazing things, with amazing people." I lay here on the couch and thought about that, what it meant. "I would not go back and change anything, after all," I said, surprised.
Last night I had my legs sugared again (preposterous practice), and I was chatting with my aesthetician about having just been in the Seychelles with my husband who has this ridiculously awesome job, and taking off in a couple days for Australia and New Zealand with a friend for horseback riding in the Southern Hemisphere. "I am so lucky!" I said. "I just . . . I'm so lucky. I have this great husband, these amazing opportunities, I feel like no one else in the world can possibly have such an awesome life!"
Rrrrrrrrip went the hair being yanked from my shin. "Honestly," I said, "I feel sorry for everyone else!"
DeAne burst out laughing. "You need to get that on a t-shirt," she said.