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
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
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
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
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