Happy birthday to me!
I am 45 today. That, in itself, is not a huge milestone but, as a two-time cancer survivor, every birthday is special…. or so I'm told.
My wife Penni feels obligated to pull out all the stops for each new birthday. But, being super busy looking after me, the kids, a couple of chickens, a dog, a house, a business AND holding down a full-time job… well, I am just amazed that she manages to bake a cake.
She recalls her 40th birthday which she celebrated quietly in our kitchen with a friend, a cup of tea and a cake. I was recovering from chemotherapy, radiotherapy and major surgery and I overheard her saying that, given recent events, she was pretty happy to reach 40. "I'd be happy to reach 40," I said from the doorway. I was 34 at the time.
Since then (and especially from 40 onwards) she's been hell-bent on giving me the best birthday ever, every single year. But every year, by her estimation, she falls short.
This morning I went for a run around 6am. When I got home, there was a flurry of activity and I was firmly instructed to stay in the front room by my nine year old son. He also tried to convince me he'd forgotten my birthday, presumably to enhance the surprise.
Finally, I was ushered into the main living area where presents, homemade cards and ginger pancakes - a first for this huge pancake fan - awaited. It was delicious and joyous and so wonderful to sit down and share breakfast with my family. This in itself is a rare treat as week-day breakfasts are generally a rushed affair with everyone flying in different directions to the sound of Dad yelling reminders, packing lunches and checking that everyone has, in fact, eaten something.
It was a great morning and I loved it. Then there was a home-cooked meal in the evening, complete with a cake that Penni cooked last night after work. Plus this weekend I get to ride my bike in the mountains. Boo-yah!
I wonder though, am I celebrating enough? As a cancer survivor, is there an expectation that I should sing from the roof-tops every time I chalk up another year on the planet? Should I be jumping out of an aeroplane, climbing Everest, doing the "big things" just because I'm still alive and one year older? Am I letting the cancer-survivor side down?
Oesophageal cancer has an average five-year survival rate of just 17.5%. I'm pleased to be bucking the trend at 10 years and 8 months. It's hard to find survival rates for osteosarcoma from 1982. The best stat I could find is in this paper which claims the survival rate between 1983 and 2003 for osteosarcoma for children under 15 years was 76%. Perhaps more telling is the doctor's question to my mum when I was diagnosed "Do you have other children?"
So, there is a lot to celebrate but I like to think I do that every day… when I'm well enough. If I could talk to all those who haven't been so lucky, I'm pretty sure they would be okay with me just living my life, whether that's yelling at the kids on school mornings, going to work or breaking world records - everything I would be doing even if I hadn't had cancer.
So, it turns out the best part of surviving is doing the "big things" - like taking the time, on my birthday, to eat pancakes for breakfast with my family, read the awesome messages on my kids' handmade cards ("we will always love you no matter what") and stuffing myself with birthday cake.