A Survivor Looks at Forty

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I am sitting on my lanai on the Hawaiian island of Kauai with my fortieth birthday only hours away. As the waves from the Pacific Ocean crash against the rocks below, I can’t help but feel complete awe at the magnificence of my life. Tonight, and most days, really, I am the luckiest girl in the world! In this beautiful condo by the sea sleep four of my friends who said yes to spending my birthday with me in Hawaii. Two more join us in a few days. I am so blessed with so many amazing people in my life. That alone is enough to lead a fantastic life—how blessed are we who have good friends. There also happens to be a fascinating, handsome and funny man in my life at the moment. He finds me sexy, appreciates my brains, and makes me laugh. What more could a girl want, really?

Three years ago, I stared ovarian cancer in the face. It was scary and inconvenient, but I was lucky. I received the multitude of life lessons that come from such a diagnosis, and got to walk away relatively unscathed—a few pounds heavier from the steroids that got me through chemo, one ovary lighter, and about a year with varying degrees of hairlessness. Not too bad a deal really in exchange for the rest of your life.

I had lunch last week with a “cancer buddy”—a friend I would likely never have met if a similar diagnosis hadn’t brought us together. She was not as lucky as I, and is already living on borrowed time. Though she has been doing chemo almost continuously for nearly three years now, the cancer is winning, and she knows she will eventually die from this disease. And yet, she lives her life fully every day, spending time with friends and family, golfing, skiing, kayaking and other adventures that even 100 percent healthy people don’t undertake. She travels and spends quality time with her husband, and talks matter-of-factly about her future, or lack thereof. She is my idol in every way. I feel blessed to have met her, and to learn from her, and I’m continually heartened by her courage and spirit.

Some might feel depressed at turning forty, and the over-the-hill jests are a given as people liken this monumental milestone to the beginning of a downward spiral, but I know better. I have come closer than many my age to the alternative, and turning forty is more than cause for celebration to me. I have not begun to reach the highest peaks of my life yet, though I am feeling pretty far up in the pinnacles at the moment.

My Dad always swore that life began at forty, and I believe him. I am coming into my own, and I couldn’t be happier. I have a career that is so rewarding, get to do volunteer work that fulfills me, have great relationships with so many incredible people, live in a beautiful state and a fun city, and have the absolute luxury of two weeks in the islands for my birthday. Who could ask for more than that?

I know the year ahead is going to be incredible, and I am embracing forty with a tremendous amount of affection and gratitude.


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