After clearing three cancers, celebrating a birthday is a big deal to me. Truth is that I’m grateful for every day. Diagnosed with my first cancer at 21, I have now celebrated more birthdays as a cancer survivor. That’s pretty spectacular news! So as I celebrate another birthday, I’m focusing on celebrating being alive. And also sharing some easy (and cheap) ways that YOU can help me celebrate my birthday. Are you in?
Birthdays are a BIG deal
When I was in treatment for bone cancer, I spent my 22nd birthday in the hospital sick from chemo. My parents brought food and cake to the hospital to help make the most of the day. I recall my birthday wish being a return to normal life, even though I had no idea what normal would like after treatment and a surgery that replaced my knee, most of lower femur and upper tibia with titanium. Navigating the world as a young adult is tough enough. Adding in as a cancer survivor, with job, health insurance, fertility, relationships, side effects and more to worry about? Whew. Fast forward 24 years and two more cancers, now my wishes include good health, lots of love and adventures.
Celebrating a birthday after cancer is not something I take for granted.
Throughout this journey called life, so many people helped me. Family, friends, acquaintances, random strangers. People who popped into my life for a short time, enough to make a difference. In some ways, I am here, alive after three cancers, because of the support system surrounding me.
And so it’s important for me to pay it forward. To help others. Spread kindness. Stand up to the negativity, selfishness, hurt and bullying. To use my voice for good. And I encourage, ask, even slightly beg, each of you reading this to do the same. Be the positive change the world desperately needs right now.
Since I’m celebrating my birthday, the amazingly joyous accomplishment of being alive after cancer, I’d love your help in spreading joy and kindness to others (including you!). Keep reading for how you can help!
Here are some ways to help me celebrate my birthday:
Do random acts of kindness for others.
My favorite mantra is “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Kindness is one of the easiest characteristic that we can share with others. It can change someone’s day and being kind can change your day. release hormones that contribute to your mood and overall wellbeing. Research shows that doing acts of kindness can release hormones that contribute to your mood and overall wellbeing. Being kind to others can increase happiness, energy, love, contentment and help improve heart health, blood pressure and more. So you can help others while helping your health. A win-win.
A few ideas:
Offer your help. Maybe someone needs help with errands, technology, grocery pick up or something else to ease their load.
Let someone know that you’re thinking of them! Send cards, texts, messages, whatever with a positive message to cheer someone.
Call a family member or friend to say hello and ask how they’re doing. And really listen. No interruptions, multi-tasking or interjecting about your life. Simply listen.
Share positive news or stories on social media rather than complaints.
Before you post a snarky comment on social media, instead think of a kind statement. Before you get impatient at the wait at the restaurant, make a nice comment to your waitstaff who is probably overworked and dealing with other rude patrons. Before you judge your body, speak a kind word about how your strength and resilience for your body most likely has overcome difficult in the journey.
Practicing self-care is so important for our mental and physical health. Being proactive with your physical health is important because you only get one body so you want to keep it strong and healthy.
For your mental and emotional health, take time for you. I like the advice of my breast surgeon in “you do you.” It seems like such a simple phrase but it’s a good reminder to focus on my needs and wants, to not be overwhelmed with trying to please everyone and know it’s ok to call a timeout and take a break. [Read some tips to embrace “you do you.”
There are some fantastic cancer-related charities that help people facing this horrible disease. There are also thousands of charities supporting many other worthy causes. Volunteer your time, get involved with fundraising events, be a mentor, help raise awareness of the cause. Every bit helps. I could list a ton of worthy charities that need volunteers and donations (check out a few listed in this blog).
This month, I’m supporting two of my favorite charities – Livestrong and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). On Sept. 18, my family and I are hosting a Lights of Hope event that honors people touched by cancer. A $10 donation lets you purchase a luminary bag in honor or memory of someone special impacted by cancer. We’ll display it at our event to help highlight why we need to continue to keep fighting cancer a priority at the state and federal levels.
This is also the 25th anniversary of the Livestrong Challenge event, which supports the numerous programs that Livestrong offers to people facing cancer. These include navigation services, fertility assistance, Livestrong at School, advocacy and more. Since the in-person event in Austin was canceled due to Covid, I decided to be active for 240 miles in September. So I’ll be biking, hiking and walking to raise awareness and money for Livestrong (click here if you’d like to donate). Why 240 miles? Because 24 years ago I was diagnosed with bone cancer and Livestrong helped me understand life as a young adult cancer survivor and continued to support my family through my dad’s treatment and death, and my continued journey as a cancer survivor.
Wear a mask.
One of the simplest gestures of kindness and goodwill to others is wearing a mask right now. It’s saying that you are willing to help protect another person while protecting yourself. I really, truly can’t comprehend the debate over wearing a mask. I wore one many times during and after cancer treatment to protect my health. I wear one now in every public indoor location, not because I’m immune-compromised (I am not), but because I care about my health AND the other people around me. Who I am to risk someone else’s health and life over a simple mask? Remember that no one is invincible. Covid is contagious so don’t put someone else’s health at risk because of your behavior. Read more in my Wear a mask, save a life post.
Take care of your health.
I’m in awe of my body. Truly. I’ve poisoned my body to save it (so weird). And despite having most of my left leg bone replaced and undergoing a lumpectomy and other surgeries over the years, my body is strong. My heart is incredibly healthy. My lungs can breathe deeply. Going through three cancers has not been easy on my body though. My bones are at risk. My heart and lungs are regularly checked for late-term side effects. For the past 24 years, my ears ring from chemo. But I am strong. My body is healthy. I am sometimes overwhelmed with gratitude, although I know I am strong and determined to enjoy this life for decades to come. I do not take my body for granted.
That’s why it’s almost offensive when others behave as if they don’t care about their bodies. Especially in front of a cancer survivor. In fact, my greatest stress during the past year has been how flippant people are about their health. So many assume they are invincible, that a virus or other disease won’t really affect them because they ‘are healthy.’ Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that we’re all healthy….until we’re not. And you don’t know how you’ll react to illness until you actually get it. Or know the long-term affects of something until you face them. So the best thing to do is to be proactive in caring for your body. Get your screenings and annual skin check, eat healthy, be active, don’t smoke, get vaccinated (not just Covid; shingles, flu, HPV, etc.). You get ONE body. Please care for it.
Nature is my comfort spot. Hiking in the woods, a picnic among trees and water, reading on a blanket in the grass, gardening, a sunflower field. I find peace, creativity and more in nature. And it’s good for us to appreciate nature. There are numerous studies of the benefits of being in nature. So get out there and enjoy it!
But we also need to protect our world. Our societies struggle to take care of the environment and that is biting us in the butt. Not just with the uptick in natural disasters, but the quality of the air we breathe and ground we grow food in. This affects our health. Be sure to recycle (it’s so easy once you get started!), don’t damage trees or other green space, be aware of the impact that your behavior has on the world around you. And remember that you don’t live on this planet alone – we’re ALL impacted by the behavior of others.
Let’s celebrate being kind to others!
Overall, I simply ask you to be kind to others. For those skimming this post to get to the end, I’ll state it again: we’re ALL impacted by the behavior of others. Think about that. Consider how your actions and behavior can positively benefit others. And if you do that, you’ll help me celebrate my birthday is a great way!