For most of my thirties, I hated my birthday. I suppose it’s because I wasn’t very happy with myself for most of that decade, so it’s not surprising that the one day a year that celebrates me specifically would send me into a depressive tailspin.
The worst, by far, was my thirty-ninth birthday. I’d just started my first round of chemo a few weeks before, and my body chose my birthday to be the day that my hair started falling out. I knew that day was coming (my oncologist predicted it with an eerie precision), and I thought I’d prepared for it, by having my husband shave my head pretty short. But I was still shocked when I found that first handful of stubble in my hands in the shower. The rest of the day went downhill from there.
Somewhere between my second and third chemo infusion, I started thinking about my upcoming fortieth birthday, and I realized I was really, really looking forward to it. I suppose I was looking forward to just about anything beyond the end of my chemo treatments, but in particular, I felt ready for my (big) birthday. After everything that had happened to me during my thirties, especially my late thirties, I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to that unfortunate era. I was ready to celebrate — and, in particular, I was ready to celebrate myself. Even though I was still in touch with friends through Facebook, chemo left me isolated from most in-person social interaction, so I started fantasizing about throwing an all-out bash for myself, and inviting EVERYONE: friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, doctors, nurses, etc etc. This hairless, pale, weak, immunocompromised girl was ready to par-TAY.
When my birthday did roll around, it turned out I didn’t have the means to throw myself the Gatsby-level soiree I’d imagined. But my loved ones did their very best. I went out to dinner with my family in Connecticut, then went to New York the next day with my husband, where he wined and dined me and surprised me with a relaxing spa treatment. And then we met all of my childhood friends for one of our old-school apartment parties. The next day, we went out for brunch, and when we got back to Providence, my husband took me out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, where it turned out my best friend and her husband were waiting to surprise me. It wasn’t the singular bash I’d imagined in my chemo haze, but it was a series of wonderful moments where I allowed myself to celebrate myself, and feel deserving of love.
I’ve let go of a lot of toxicity in my life over the past few years, and I suppose that’s allowed more positive energy to shine through, in both directions. Now, I feel so grateful to have the life I have, and be the person I am, and love the people I love, I can’t help celebrating EVERY DAY. My birthday is just the icing on the cake.
Thanks to everyone who made the past few days so special for me, including my husband, my son, my friends, and my family. I’d raise a glass of bubbly to you all, but I don’t think there’s any left, after all the damage I’ve done!