How Cancer Complicates Birthdays
Sorry for the heavy post today. I just had to get it out.
I was one of the oldest kids on my hospital floor during the year of my chemotherapy treatment. My nurses and doctors kind of choose me to be the “welcome to cancer floor” ambassador because of my age. I didn’t mind it at all; I was honored to be the roommate that they choose for new kids to talk to and hoped I could help by answering their questions about treatment and medicine and Make-a-Wish.
That’s how I met Maddie. They put her in my room during her first chemotherapy and asked if I would chat with her and answer any of her questions. I think she might have been a little freaked out about me at first. I mean, I was bald and had lost my eyebrows at that point, so I looked a little freaky. But, she talked to me and asked me questions about hair loss and surgery. In an effort to cheer her up, I told her all about Make-A-Wish; how she could make a wish for whatever she wanted and the kind folks would grant it.
After I went back to my side of the room to get some rest (#chemoproblems), Maddie’s mom asked her what she would wish for. And without missing a beat, Maddie said:
“For my new friend, Chelsie, to get better.”
Maddie would be turning 18 this month. Maddie should be turning 18 this month.
I don’t know why, but her 18th birthday feels heavier than most. I can’t believe that it’s been 10 years since I was sharing a room with her, 10 years since she taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life: to give fully and without a second thought. I often think about what she would have been like at 18; I’m sure she would have been sassy and spunky as ever. I wonder where she would be going to college. I wonder what she would want to study. I wonder if she would have had her first boyfriend by now. And there are some days where I feel insurmountable guilt that I got to go to college and study a subject and have a (permanent) boyfriend and she never did. Guilty for having this beautiful life and for taking it for granted far too often.
Ten days after Maddie’s birthday, I celebrate my own. I’ll be 26 this year. 10 years ago my mom was threatening my doctors, saying that she was going to take me home for my sweet 16 birthday party, whether they wanted me to go or not. 10 years ago, I was hoping that Jordan Ward would show up at my birthday party and that I could stomach my birthday cake. 10 years ago, I still had two good legs because they hadn’t removed my tumor yet. I still knew what it was like to walk up and down the stairs without it hurting. 10 years ago, I was turning 16 and I was in the middle of my battle.
It’s hard for me to want to celebrate my birthday because I first have to accept that Maddie doesn’t get to have one. Cancer seems to complicate everything, even 10 years later. Cancer complicates birthdays. But I know that’s not what she wants for me. Maddie got her wish and I got better. So, I choose to celebrate Maddie’s life in March by working hard to appreciate and celebrate my own. We go out to eat more because it’s my birthday month. I buy myself more things because it’s my birthday month. I allow myself that afternoon nap because it’s my birthday month. I have to make a big deal about my birthday because I have two lives to celebrate. Mine. And Maddie’s. A forever 10-year-old little girl who was big enough to wish for my life instead of a puppy or a trip. A forever 10-year-old little girl who has permanently changed my life in all the best ways, forever.
I saw the heart rock the other day, Maddie. I know you’re always looking out for me. I’m trying my hardest to celebrate 26 for you this year. I’m doing my best.