For basketball fans, this month is about March Madness. For me, March is about weirdness. Life and death and defying the odds. I've been lucky, but I should probably stay home tomorrow. I'm not getting on any airplanes, that's for sure.
First of all, March 11 is my sister's birthday. March 11 also happens to be my 14-year cancer anniversary. I've always felt bad that my sister's birthday will be forever marked by my own bad fortune. But I've actually had good fortune when it comes to surviving cancer, and we Pekars are good at rolling with the punches, so I'm sure she doesn't mind. Happy 60th, Cheryl!
Some of you have heard this before, but I repeat it periodically because it's important for long-term survivors to be visible. Everyone needs to know that sometimes good things happen to people who get cancer.
On March 11, 1999, I was diagnosed with cancer that turned out to be stage 3, grade 3 Primary Peritoneal Cancer. This type of cancer is virtually identical to ovarian cancer except it originates in the lining of the abdomen. I had surgery to remove the tumors, six rounds of chemotherapy and another surgery to check for any remaining microscopic cancer. I was given a clean bill of health and have been fine ever since.
Now I get to say I am in my 15th year of survival! How cool is that? I don't say I beat cancer, and I don't say I'm cured, even though I am a long-term survivor. It makes me sad to read about cancer survivors who use words like terminal and incurable, because in my mind, who really knows? In many ways, I am typically a glass-half-empty kind of person, but my inner sunny optimist emerges when it comes to cancer. I know firsthand that anything is possible.
Last year on March 11, I fell off my bicycle and broke my wrist. A minor thing, purely a coincidence, but it stopped me in my tracks. Nothing really bad had happened to me since cancer. How dare this happen to me? I had lapsed into my Type AAA behavior, and the accident made me realize it was time to chill if I wanted to live another 15 years.
Some say there is no such thing as a coincidence, especially if you look for the clues.
Then we come around to March 26. It is my mother's birthday, and she died on this exact day seven years ago. Her mother also died on her birthday. And if that isn't odd enough for you, my husband's mother and my mother died within hours of each other ... his in Maine, mine in California. We each went home to be with our families. What we really wanted was to grieve together, but there would be plenty of time for that later.
Sometimes we get wrapped up in life and all the things that drive us. Even after surviving this killer, I have to constantly remind myself to lighten up. Yes, we have dreams and demons and obligations, but please remember to pause from time to time, breathe deeply and inhale the goodness of being alive and the enormous privilege of aging.