Fortieth Birthday

I was dreading turning 40. Saying goodbye to not just one but two decades of independent adult living was making me stop and review my life’s decisions, my achievements to date. What really did I have to show for my 40 years of existence?

A house with a tree planted in the back garden: tick. A loving husband: tick. A baby: tick, tick, tick. What were those other items on the list of things you must do before you die? Tick, perhaps? Write a book: unticked. Voluntary work with those less fortunate than me: unticked….

And then I found a lump under my arm, about a month before my 40th birthday. I was on the way to Vigo with Carlos, my husband and three children, relieved that we were all on our Easter holidays and relaxing into a relatively stress-free weekend, in the company of María, my sister-in-law. Non-chalantly throwing my arms back, I started to scratch myself deeply and there it was, the whopper of a walnut-sized lump, which has since become the most recent “before and after” of my life.

I would have gladly stuck with the “having a baby” as the most significant transforming event in my life but it has been superseded by the big C, well the big BC to be precise: Breast Cancer. (And I might later write a post comparing these).

So, I’ve already lived 6 weeks, almost every thought accompanied by the looming idea of breast cancer. Three of those were spent in a frenzied whirlwind of tests and then more tests, the dreaded “staging”of the disease: how far advanced in my body the cancer is. Then there was a week of lull; a pocket of calm after that first storm before the next one brewed up. It was a welcome time, to absorb the initial shock and assimilate to a certain degree the confirmation of having cancer.

On the 10th of May 2016 I had my right breast completely removed and a full emptying of the lymph nodes under my right arm, in medical terms what’s known as a modified radical mastectomy. When I woke up on the 11th May, the following day, I was 40 years old! A very young woman, in cancer terms ( and I’ll grasp on to that idea!), a middle-aged woman by the average age of mortality in Europe.

I opted to have my hair done by the roaming hospital hairdresser. Surprisingly, considering I was in a hospital surrounded by professional “care-givers”, she was the first person to offer an added cushion to my operating-table twisted back and make me somewhat more comfortable. I didn’t decline as I sank into the softness of the pile of pillows and I succumbed to having my hair washed and blow-dried, fiesta style, as the lady insisted to celebrate later with my family.

By then I hadn’t fully realized the implications of my 40th birthday and that’s when I asked Carlos to return that evening with the children and a birthday cake. We couldn’t let this extra special occasion go unmarked!

My 40th birthday, the 11th of May 2016: Day 1 of my recovery from breast cancer. I will never dread a birthday again. I look forward to my 41st birthday. It will be year 1 free from cancer. Each passing year will be an extra mark notched up on the wall. Suddenly my birthday has taken on a whole new meaning. This is the “before and afer” I have needed to jerk me into living.

2 comments

  1. Noel Brennan

    Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís! Loosely translated from Gaeilge – ‘that you may have many more birthdays’.
    Deirdre, well done on capturing the essence: glad I was at your party.

    Like

  2. Helene Silk

    “perhaps? Write a book: unticked.” I think you will be ticking this off soon. Did u study biology or English?? Your writing is amazing.
    The whole new meaning of life, before and after, such powerful words for all of us to hear. Very inspiring blog entries.
    Sending you lots and lots of love. xxxx

    Like

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