the uninvited guest

A Birthday and An Uninvited “Guest”

Have you ever had a party and one of your guests hung around too long? Or worse yet, have you ever had a party and someone you had not invited or wanted to attend showed up? Maybe this is a bad analogy, but this week was my birthday, and I was reminded about when something like this happened to me.

Every year, even after I became an adult, my mother would invariably start asking me sometime in January, “Nancy, when would you like to celebrate your birthday this year?”

Next to Christmas, family birthdays came next in the important occasions to celebrate category for my mother. Most years I invariably traveled home to my parents’ house to celebrate mine. I’m sure there were a few years when traveling in February was quite hazardous, but usually I managed to make it sometime around my birthday.

February 1, 2004 was no different except for the fact my parents were the ones traveling to my house that day to celebrate my forty-somethingish birthday. They didn’t come. Instead, my mother called me early that morning to tell me she had discovered a lump in her breast. That was the beginning of her cancer experience and therefore the beginning of mine as well.

The uninvited “guest” to my birthday party had arrived. I didn’t know it at the time, but that “guest” was here to stay.

It seems ironic that cancer slithered into my mother’s life, and therefore into mine, on my birthday. I have often thought about this, irrationally concluding cancer was trying to make some kind of statement to me back then and I just didn’t hear it. Maybe it was an omen and I missed it. Maybe it was a wake up call and I didn’t pay attention.

Of course such thoughts are ridiculous, but cancer creates conditions in the mind making it ripe for ridiculous thoughts to formulate and grow. Just ask anyone you know who has been diagnosed with cancer. They will undoubtedly agree, cancer messes with the mind, at least some of the time.

Cancer cannot plot against us. I did not have a crystal ball allowing me to look into my future. And even if I had, would I have wanted to look? Would I have wanted to know what was in store for me a few years down the road? Probably not.

Another thing that sticks in my mind about that particular birthday, is hearing my mother say to me, “Nancy, I’m so sorry you will have to remember this every year on your birthday from now on.”

Mothers like to fix things, not be the source of unsolvable problems. She felt guilty my birthday was forever tarnished, and in her eyes, she had been the one to tarnish it.

Well, I do think about that birthday every year now. I think about the uninvited guest intruder that showed up and never went away. I think about a lot of things. How could I not?

You might think remembering all this stuff only makes me sad, but you’d be wrong. Remembering that birthday in some ways makes me feel even more connected to my mother. Remembering all the birthdays I celebrated through the years, mine and those of other family members as well, makes me feel really good. We got to do a lot of celebrating together. Not everybody gets to do that.

This year, even more than other years, I am delighted (well, okay delighted is a stretch, but you get my point) to be getting older. I look forward to more birthdays. Each one will present me with the opportunity to embrace another new year, hopefully rich with more celebrations.

That uninvited intruder is still lurking around, but I push it away from my ‘party’ every chance I get.

Here’s to birthdays and lots of them.

Have you ever had an uninvited guest show up?

How do you feel about birthdays post cancer?

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 The uninvited guest 

35 thoughts on “A Birthday and An Uninvited “Guest”

  1. Hope you had a lovely birthday Nancy. Very good post. Wishing you only welcomed guests for many, many years to come.

    PS We share a birthday, mine’s also this week

  2. I know I wished you a happy birthday via FB, but let me wish it to you again. I am struck reading your post and also Lauren’s guest post today on my own blog, how cancer really is no respecter of what is going on in our lives. It will just push its way on in there regardless!

    1. Marie, Thanks so much for your birthday wishes, but thanks even more for your friendship. And about cancer just budding in where it doesn’t belong, I could not agree with you more, it just keeps right on doing exactly that. We just have to keep pushing back!

  3. Great post–I tell everyone that my 40th birthday present to myself was my first mammogram along with a breast cancer diagnosis. I never really thought about it, but yes, a very much unwelcomed, unwanted, loud, and obnoxious guest.
    Hugs, Lisa

  4. Nancy, this is a really good one. I wrote something similar when I described being diagnosed the day before a Disney World vacation. Cancer certainly wasn’t invited, but came along anyway. Sadly, it doesn’t really matter where someone is, it will find us.

    I’m glad you were able to enjoy your birthday.

    1. Stacey, I remember your Disney Post. I read it a couple of times. That must have been something. I can’t imagine trying to walk around DW surrounded by all that “happiness” after just receiving a diagnosis. Cancer just pushes its way into our lives, as you well know. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Two years ago my daughter, on her birthday, drove five hours to be with me during my surgery for ovarian cancer. My prayer was simply, “Oh, God, please don’t let me die on my daughter’s birthday!”

    Thank God, I’m still here and I enjoy and celebrate every morning that I am able to jump out of bed!

    1. Whitestone, Yes, I totally understand your prayer of that day. I’m glad your daughter was able to be with you. I can tell you appreciate each new day! Good for you and thanks for commenting.

  6. Cancer was the unwanted guest on our last family vacation to Chicago many years ago. Except my mom didn’t let us kids know, and waited until we got home to tell us the news. That’s so like my mom, she was always trying to protect me. 🙂

    Happy belated birthday, Nancy!

    1. Sami, Well, that’s what mothers do, try to protect, so I understand why your mom waited til you got home to tell you. I hope you have happy memories of that last vacation and all the others before that. I’m sure you do. Thanks for your comments, Sami.

  7. Yes, Nancy – exactly – DELIGHTED to be getting older! So strange. That’s exactly right. Aging is inevitable, but now another year, is just that – it’s another year I am still alive post breast cancer diagnosis. Really interesting reflection, thank you!

  8. Nancy, firstly Happy Birthday !! Did you get the snow shoveling done? I really vacillate on how I feel when my birthday comes around. It’s a mix of feeling bitter that another year has been wasted to cancer, to celebrating the fact that I’m still here and all of the emotions in between. But you’re right, cancer’s always sitting right there at the birthday table and there’s no getting it leave. Sometimes though I can just shove it in a corner and ignore it. 😉

  9. Dear Nancy,
    First of all, Happy birthday! Congratulations on that achievement. I love every birthday milestone, but especially those of fellow cancer survivors; it’s such an accomplishment. The American Cancer Society claims it is the official sponsor of birthdays. While this makes a nice motto, many more organizations have their mission to see cancer eradicated in our lifetimes.

    My uninvited guest was radiation on my birthday in 1996. I had calculated I would be done with the radiation treatments before my birthday, but because of Labor Day vacation, they had to tack on an extra Monday (my birthday). I changed my attitude about it after the treatment was complete, expressing thanks that I could celebrate another year.

    Enjoy this special season of your life.

    Jan

    1. Jan, Thank you for your insightful comments and good wishes. I think you’re right, we all feel part of the birthday celebrations of other survivors, each year is an accomplishment. Your attitude of gratitude is admirable.

  10. Happy belated birthday, Nancy! This is a poignant posting. I do want to address the point about birthdays. Before cancer diagnosis, I used to get depressed on my birthday. When I was going through cancer treatment, all I wanted to have was future birthdays.

    I now embrace my birthdays with happiness because each day is a gift, another birthday.

    1. Beth, Thank you for the birthday wishes. I never got depressed or cared much about getting older. And now, well, I look forward to more birthdays just like you! Getting older is a good thing!

  11. Happy belated birthday Nancy! Funny, I was diagnosed in early April, 3 days before my husband ‘s birthday, almost 3 weeks before my son’s and just over 3 weeks before mine. I started chemo in May, about 5 days before my other son’s birthday. April and May have always been family birthday months for us.

    That was a terrible time almost two years ago now. But cancer did not take away my happy times in that month forever nor will I let it. No way. Now, it’s just a busy, celebratory happy month to look forward to. And it’s going to stay that way!

  12. Hope your Birthday is wonderful. I don’t remember what day I got the news. I do try to celebrate on the final day of radiation though.

    1. Betty, The reasons why we do or do not remember certain days/things are very personal too I guess. Good for you for celebrating your end of radiation day. What do you do to mark the day?

  13. Happy Birthday, Nancy. And very many more!
    Cancer was my uninvited Christmas Eve guest. Later, although I got the call about the tests results a few days earlier, I was in my oncologist’s office on my birthday, having recurrence and metastatic cancer explained to me. In the days between that call, and my birthday oncologist appointment, my first grandchild was born.
    I found a journal in my mother’s things. Apparently, she had found her cancer just before Christmas, but did not tell anyone, not even my dad, until January, so she wouldn’t spoil Christmas for the rest of us.

    1. Elizabeth, It’s not surprising that your mom kept it quiet until after Christmas… Sorry you had that uninvited guest/intruder show up too. Lovely that your first grandchild was born in between appointments and ironic, too, somehow. Thank you for reading this oldie and for commenting too.

  14. Nancy, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you!

    Cancer showed up without an invitation during Christmas for me. I don’t like it that I have so many cancer associations (as you know, I lost my grandma on a January 2). There’s no right time to get a cancer diagnosis, but I find it more difficult when it happens during special holidays. When we should all be celebrating. Christmas has not been the same for me for 18 years now. And this doesn’t mean I am not living my life or letting cancer ‘win’. I am a daughter who misses her mom and wants her back. I am so sorry you are dealing with cancer associations too.

    Birthdays affect me differently now. I haven’t built a family of my own so the older I get, the more I feel discouraged (thanks to the intruder!).

    Wishing you many more healthy years, Nancy. xo

    1. Rebecca, There is no good time of course, but when special days are forever tarnished, it’s extra hard. Wishing you many, many healthy years too. And I hope you do get to build that family if it’s something you want to do. xo

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