Yesterday was my 46th birthday. It was the first birthday since being diagnosed with cancer. I spent my day at the hospital, first seeing the plastic surgeon for a regular visit and then the oncologist's office for bloodwork. These places have become routine, part of the eb & flow of my life now. I barely gave it a second thought. But in reflection, that's kind of sad, isn't it?
I imagine that every birthday from here on in will take on new meaning. I will be celebrating not just the day I was born, but my survivorship, another notch on my belt as the years (hopefully) roll by. Now all my birthdays will have an extra reason to celebrate tacked on to them. Perhaps it sounds ungrateful of me, but I found myself thinking that I really liked my birthdays the way they were...just a day to mark the usual passage of time… still believing I had plenty of it.
I never minded getting older, I proudly tell people my age and have no hang-ups about it. But now whenever I think of my age I can't help but calculate in my head...if I survive X amount of years, how old will I be then? It feels different. So I tried to treat yesterday like it was just any other day. The plan was to do a little celebration today when I had more time and Michael was home. Mostly for the kids' sake, as to be truthful my heart wasn’t really in it.
Today started with a wound review session from my favorite visiting nurse…and then after that I had to run to hyperbaric therapy. That whole process took six hours. Six hours devoted to cancer today. Probably about the same amount as yesterday, actually.
I was feeling pretty down about it all until I sat in the waiting room at hyperbaric medicine and looked up at the TV. They were reading the names of the World Trade Center victims. Of course, I know that 9/11 follows my birthday, living in the NYC area it has especially not escaped my notice. But I guess this year I got all caught up in cancer and sort of let the memory pass without acknowledging it.
On that fateful day 8 years ago I was home alone, still very sick from my emergency c-section and all the complications. In fact it was the first time I had been alone since Megan was born about 5 weeks earlier. My mother was planning to come later in the morning so it was only supposed to be for a few hours…just a few hours between when Michael left for work in Manhattan and my mother would come.
Ironically, September 11th had been Megan’s original due date. I remember joking with the doctor and asking if we could change it to my birthday the day before. What a wonderful gift -- a baby on my birthday after so many long years of trying.
But life had other plans and instead I almost died delivering her 5 weeks prematurely. Life often has other plans.
And on that day…that horrible, tragic day 8 years ago, I awoke from an early morning nap on the sofa to the sound of the phone ringing. I looked at the TV, left on while Meggie and I dozed, and sleepily answered the phone to hear my mother’s panicked voice. She was saying something about being able to talk to Michael for a few moments right after “it” happened…that at least he was okay as of that conversation…to try not to worry. All the while I am trying to make sense out of what my mother is saying, I am also looking at news coverage of a towering inferno on the television. And then the caption underneath finally became clear…what I am looking at is the World Trade Center. But there was only one tower. One. One where there was supposed to be two…where there had always been two towers for all these years now there was only one. How could that be? I asked my mother why there was only one tower. She didn’t answer. I said it louder…finally I shouted, “Where is the other tower???” She said quietly, “It collapsed…it’s gone.”
Just then the second tower fell. I clutched Megan and felt dread run through my body. It all made sense. Somehow, inexplicably, I had lived through her birth because the Universe or God or Whatever, was going to take Michael instead. Manhattan was under attack in some bizarro world and today I would become a sickly widow with a new baby that her Daddy wouldn’t get to see grow up.
All that day I sat with the phone in my hand. All that day I watched the TV with a sick heart like every other person with a loved one in NYC…like every other person in our country…in the world. But as we all know my husband came home. As we all know so many, many did not. Too many mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & children…people loved and adored, needed and wanted by their friends and families…too many didn’t come home.
Thankfully Michael was in no great danger that day, tho I didn’t know that until midnight, until he managed little by little all day to make his way thru the chaos of NYC and walk across the George Washington Bridge…finally able to meet my mother who drove him all the way from Fort Lee to our front porch where I hugged him so hard I think I hurt him. We spent the next few days shell shocked and realizing how fragile life is…how lucky we were.
And again today as I listened to the all too familiar names of the dead being read aloud and I saw the towns they were from…the town where I grew up, the town I married in, the towns my babies were born in, the town I now live…again today I realized that I am still lucky. Today I am here. I now have two children, both healthy and happy. My husband came home from work again. I lived another year and a day.
Today I will make that be more than enough in their honor.