“How does it feel to turn 35 years old!?” friends asked me across a conference room table earlier this week.
They’re new friends, people I’ve met over the past year through work. People who’ve not lived the past 18 years by my side as I’ve survived colon cancer (although people who would have undoubtedly rushed to support had we met earlier in life).
I didn’t know what to say.
I think they were expecting to hear some of the most common responses from someone inching closer to age 40 – grief over the 20s, the fear of feeling “old” and out of touch. Perhaps an “over the hill” joke.
But as I sat back in the roller chair, I grew perplexed.
I didn’t have an answer.
Reality check at age 35
The room didn’t quite reach awkward silence, but my long pause said it all – they’d stumped me. Why?
I realized I’d never pictured myself at age 35.
Like a baby learning to walk, I quickly grasped for words to explain the complex awareness my mind and heart were experiencing in that moment. I didn’t realize that for the past 18 years, I’ve not let myself look too far ahead to envision myself growing older.
Sure, when I was 17 years old, I had goals. But they were going to prom, becoming a senior, graduating high school and going to college.
But beyond that, a 17-year-old me didn’t look too far ahead and put expectations on what life would look and feel like, because I didn’t expect to live this long.
Of course, I hoped to live well into my 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond; I fight hard to still be here.
But hoping to live and expecting to live are two very different things.
And sitting in a conference room just days away from turning age 35, I came to realize all of this for the first time.
It was the most odd kickoff to a meeting.
Cancer and birthdays
For many years now, I’ve talked about how I cannot help but tie together cancer and birthdays.
The American Cancer Society’s “birthdays” campaign influenced this some, but I think it’s a common mindset among many survivors.
The day we realize we won’t live forever – whether it’s because of cancer, we survive an accident, someone we love passes away, etc. – something switches in our minds.
Birthdays aren’t simply steps closer to middle-age, old age and death.
Birthdays are truly a gift of life.
Most people complain about getting older until it’s threatened to be taken away. And then, suddenly every day counts and wrinkles and gray hairs, whether you color them or not, are a blessing and delight.
It’s an odd and perplexing perspective.
Especially when you’ve just turned age 35.