A Woman of a Certain Age

Having Birthdays

Today is the fourth birthday I’ve had since being diagnosed with cancer. So far, I’m still dancing with NED (which means my cancer tests since treatment still keep saying “No Evidence of Disease”). Around my first birthday after cancer, I went out and got a tattoo. On my leg. Not pink. Not a ribbon. Yeah, it’s the one on my leg in the blog logo pic. It wasn’t my first tattoo. It followed these little black dot tattoos that I got — involuntarily — when I had radiation. I went for my leg tattoo with another breast cancer sistah. The tattoo artist turned out to have lost his sister to breast cancer a few years before. Instant support group. Stuff like that happens in Cancer Land.

If I had any advantage going into Cancer Land, it was perhaps that I’d already been through menopause, so I wasn’t suddenly thrust into it by cancer treatment for my hormone-positive cancer. So, I had already ‘adjusted’ to hot flashes and night sweats and having a thermostat that was permanently stuck on high. I shelved all my turtlenecks and saved a lot on heating oil. Didn’t mean I had no hormones left, however. I came to value my remaining meager supply when I was put on tamoxifen, which proceeded to annihilate what remained of them. After a year of suffering through headaches, joint pain, hair like straw, brain fog and endless fatigue, I decided that I wanted to hang onto my remaining dribble of hormones. The 7.5% decrease in my recurrence risk that was supposed to be conferred on me by tamoxifen just wasn’t worth the suffering in the meantime. When you’re over 50, you’ve already bumped into a few challenges to your quality of life, even without cancer. So you get pretty snarky about hanging onto what you’ve got left.

Age and language and stereotypes are funny things. Dr. Susan Love once publicly referred to certain kinds of breast cancer as ‘granny cancer.’ I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that. Since the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommended that routine mammography for breast cancer screening should start at age 50, there may be too many folks who think of breast cancer as ‘granny cancer.’ Tell that to my friend Rachel’s husband, who just lost his wife at age 41 to metastatic breast cancer. Personally, I don’t like anyone referring to any kind of cancer with glib, age-ist phrases. The birthdays stopped for Rachel, and they continue to stop for 40,000 American women and men every year because of breast cancer.

So, I’m just happy to have another birthday. It’s a bit sobering now to be within two years of my sixtieth birthday, but we baby boomers, especially we of the younger contingent born after 1950, seem to be benefitting from a whole rethink on age expectations. I’ve been old enough to be someone’s granny for over a decade. Or two. But I and my life bear little resemblance to my own grandmother’s life. Thanks to increased longevity, better nutrition, more exercise, sunscreen, and really good hair coloring, we women of a certain age have a much different life than our predecessors.

So I’ve been a little (a lot) ticked off that cancer has seen fit to interrupt and rearrange my own expectations in this decade. In fact, the word ‘expectation’ has changed irrevocably for me in the past few years. I expected to slow down a bit as I got older. I didn’t expect to get my sorry butt handed to me on a platter by post-treatment fatigue. I expected to plan how many more years I had to work until I could afford to retire. I didn’t expect to become leary of making plans at all. Heck, I expected to be symmetrical, more or less. Now I’m not. Whatever. Old news. I’m getting over it. One day at a time.

I do expect to be here today and tomorrow. I could be wrong about tomorrow. You never know. I do expect that I will continue to love dark chocolate, and daffodils, and temperate weather, and my friends, and laughter, and cats and dogs, and writing, and making pictures. I’m not sure I ever expected my snarkitude quotient to multiply as much as it has in the past three-and-a-half years. But since it has, I expect it to continue. And I’m planning to enjoy all of this and more today. And every other day I keep dancing with NED.

So, how’s the whole birthday thing for you now?

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm, filed under Attitude, Diagnosis, Recurrence, Screening, Survivorship . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

21 Responses to “A Woman of a Certain Age”

  1. #OccupyTheCure is perfection……

    Damn sistah, you ain’t close to 60….. NO WAY…..

    I love your snark…. love your attitude….. love everything about the way you write….. hell, love everything about YOU…..

    Keep writing…. I’ll keep reading…. Can’t promise on the comments…. I read far more than I comment on… although, when I read the same blog five times and swear I DID leave a comment, I know it’s all about the damn chemobrainfog……. ๐Ÿ™‚


    Rock On….Kick Ass….

  2. Well then Kathi, so you’re the same age as me! Well two and a half months younger. So without knowing we must have shared a lot of the same things:

    The big thrill of Yuri Gagarin
    The deep shock of JFK
    The glory of the Beatles and the Beach Boys
    Not to mention the coming of Motown

    And all of them before we were ten.

    So I wish you many more years and many more Motowns – ‘Stop, whoa yeah wait a minute mister postman!’

  3. First of all – Happy Birthday to a dear sistah! Hope you are having a great time.

    Birthdays post diagnosis I find are sobering – I’ve had five since now, and they seem to cause reflections on ageing that are different to what I expected – like will I still be here when I’m 50? And I honestly hadn’t ever expected to think like that. (I wrote about the birthdays here:

    I also remember, at diagnosis, that everyone I told said they knew someone who’d ‘been through breast cancer’ (their expressions not mine), and they were always older – like their mothers or aunts… and I felt alone and ‘too young’ for this. But one of the sad statistics about breast cancer is that women in their 40s and 30s (and younger) are being diagnosed with the disease. Like our beloved Rachel. Sigh.

    Hope you get to have lots more dates with NED, he’s a really cool guy to hang out with.

    love to you, Sarah xoxo

  4. Hey, AM, I’ll rock on if you do!! And you can get your own #occupythecure shirt right here (http://www.zazzle.com/occupy_the_cure_tshirt-235564351848432742). I just went shopping — in actual stores — and I bought that elusive item that becomes almost an impossibility after this entire sleighride — a comfortable bra!!! Happy Birthday to me!!

  5. Ronnie, no one can say we had an uneventful childhood, that’s for sure. There was a lot of ugly stuff going on — the Cuban Missile Crisis, lynchings and cross-burnings, the KKK — along with the Fab Four from Liverpool and the whole British Music Invasion. I’ve had a soft spot for Liverpool ever since. xoxo

    Sarah, I hate that ‘granny cancer’ phrase. My expectations for how I’d feel on each successive post-cancer birthday have gotten so trounced every year, now I just focus on getting through the day and being glad to have it. Hope you keep dancing with NED till way past 50. Big hugs.

  6. Thanks for the raw honesty. I connected to many ideas in your post. I, too, threw out the Tamoxifen, 9 months for me. I had 7 cancer-free birthdays, but am now re-diagnosed, so back to square one. I have a new attitude about this disease, more of a chronic thing I need to take care of. I don’t think I will count birthdays, but maybe I will. I change my mind often..

    Be well,
    Andrea (breast-free and 43)

  7. Oh, Andrea, I hate that the Stalker came back for you. Good luck & lots more birthdays.

  8. Kathi,
    I guess ‘we women of a certain age’ have come through a lot even before the cancer thing hit haven’t we?

    I look at birthdays differently now too. I look at just about everything differently now. Like you, I get ticked off with the way cancer interrupted my life and changed my expectations and plans. Then when I get done being ticked off, I carry on as you said, one day at a time and try to enjoy each one. My life may not be as I once envisioned it, but it is mine. I’ll take every day I can squeeze out.

    Happy birthday to you dear friend! Here’s to getting older!

  9. Happy Birthday to the snarkiest, sassiest, sexiest sistah I know – ok I don’t know a lot..but I’d like to ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m with AnneMarie – no wayyyy are you nearly 60 – that just can’t be right – I mean look at you – you don’t look a day over
    fab-u-lous! Lovin’ the t-shirt too ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Thanks, Marie! Really, my mom had great genes for looking young. She looked like she was 18 when she was 40!! Can’t really take much credit for having her legs, her hair, her metabolism. Thanks, Mom!! Don’t know where the cancer came from, but she didn’t have it.

  11. Yeah, I’m there too. Must be about 10 months younger than you, but a little more than a year out of dx. I’ve only started to dance with NED. I hope it’ll be a long dance, if not especially graceful. ;-p

    Granny cancer? Yuck. I hate that crap. I hate being pidgeonholed. I’m never going to be anything like my granny, well except that we’ve both had breast surgery. But I’m not going to be a granny.

    You look great in that t-shirt, love the look. No one really can tell our ages anyway. So I don’t really care about birthdays anymore. All we can do is bitch and grumble when we need to, and otherwise live as much as we can. Take care! Eat dark chocolate.

  12. Hi Kathi,

    Happy Birthday Lass XX .. I still climb trees and I get odd looks, but. I don’t give a owls hoot …. Not that the bloody owl is happy when he finds a nutter sharing the view that no other can see… ya get meee lol!!
    Love the T-shirt and keep up the good work on your blog

  13. Thanks, Nancy. It helps to get ticked off. Doesn’t help to stuff it all down & not face things. Cancer is darn inconvenient!! If I let myself get angry, I get energized to do something. A useful strategy!

    Elaine, I’m not sure what I was going for with the outfit, but I sort of look like a biker-chick/hippie protestor. LOL.

    Sarah, I used to love to climb trees!! I’m adding that to my TO DO list for this year.

  14. Happy birthday my blogging sistah and friend!! You definitely look younger than your years! I LOVE this posting. You have every right to be pissed off about breast cancer disrupting your life and being referred to as the “granny” cancer. Would you believe that one doctor (before my diagnosis) told me I was too young for cancer.

    Has he visited a children’s cancer ward? Ever?

    Keep on snarking. I love your posts.

  15. Happy birthday!

    I remember my first birthday after cancer. I had been dreading turning 60 for several years. But I was DELIGHTED to turn 60 that year and I have LOVED every birthday since. Now I have had 22 bonus years and still NED.

    It would have been helpful to have known that in the beginning.

    But, in a way, the poignancy of life lies in its uncertainties.

    Not sure I quality for “a woman of a certain age.” Think I’m just old.

  16. Happy Birthday, you fabulous woman–a day late, of course. (I’m still in England and catching up is insane at the moment.)

    “Granny cancer”. pfft. Seriously. I haven’t heard that phrase before. So, I shall ‘pfft’ it again.


  17. F*ck yeah–another birthday!!

    Celebratory hugs to you!

    Love the shirt, by the way.

  18. Happy birthday and congrats to a sassy and brassy sister blogger! Rock on, and write on, my friend. xxx

  19. Hi Kathi,

    yes really relate to what you said about being a baby boomer born post 1950. I was born in 1952 the year of the water dragon. This is the secong year of the water dragon since my birth so I reckon its going to be a great year. Especially as I’m turning 60 at the end of the year. I don’t worry too much about whether I’ll get breast cancer again. I live life taking risks every day – riding my push bike or my motor bike, skiing down extreme slopes etc. But my breast cancer experience has meant I’m more focussed on me – on what i want to do in my life. And I’ve just made the decsion to give up my job and give myself the gift of focussing on my Doctorate full time for 12 months – not sure how I’ll ive but I’m sure I’ll survive.



  20. Belated best wishes for a very happy birthday and a terrific year to come, Kathi – I hope it’s followed by many more dark-chocolate-and-snark-filled years of NED.

    I haven’t had a post-treatment birthday yet – when I do, it’ll be my 43rd. Pre-diagnosis, I always blithely assumed I’d see 80. Now, if I’m NED at 50 I’ll feel like the luckiest woman on earth. I’ve told my friends they are NOT allowed to whinge about turning 50 around me, and that if I get there I’m having the party to end parties.

    Love the t-shirt – and you look utterly fabulous!!

  21. Thanks, Kay! Wow, a doctorate!! You rock, my friend!!

    Liz, I’m not sure what I’ll do for my sixtieth, but whatever I do, I plan to thoroughly enjoy myself. xoxo

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