A thousand things go through your head when you are told you have cancer. A thousand wishes, what-ifs, dreads, hopes, fears… You realise that some of your “old” hopes and fears aren’t worth holding onto any more. The trivial, the shallow. Among the shoals of thoughts and ideas in my brain, I can remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. Trying to pull it together and stop my tears. (Sometimes the allocated crying time of a shower is too short.) I looked into my own eyes and told myself, “You are going to grow old. You will get wrinkles on your face. Your hair will go gray. You will endure this so you can age.”
We exist in this bizarre world where youthfulness is revered. To have a smooth face, is to be a success. Especially if you are a woman. Gain experience, wisdom, life lessons… but don’t you dare gain weight or creases. Don’t let your body tell your life story. I’m in my early thirties and we’ve already started, bemoaning our crows feet and mummy tummies, our thigh circumference and bum dimples, how saggy our necks are…
But I’m lucky, you know. Cancer gave me a gift. The gift of knowing that aging is a privilege. The gift of gazing at my body and practising gratitude, instead of berating perceived faults. I look at my hands and notice they have more lines and marks than they did. And I am grateful I can cuddle my children and draw pictures for them and make their lunches and yes, wipe their bums. I look at my tummy and it is scarred and stretched and changed. My son asks me why it has a fat part. And I am thankful that it carried and birthed life, and thankful for the science that means I can adapt and survive, and thankful for the surgery that’s changed my odds of growing old for the better.
Another year, another birthday, is always something to celebrate. Another line, another wrinkle, is proof that you are here, living your miraculous life. I hope we learn to cherish our stories told in white hairs and saggy skin. I hope we share the vulnerability of change in our bodies, so that we can find joy in them together. I hope I always remember this lesson, this gift.