Today is my birthday. I am 54 years old. Eighteen years ago I was pronounced dead on arrival at one of our local hospitals, suffering from a misdiagnosed cancerous tumor wedged between my heart and lung. I had Stage IV lymphoma. No one thought I'd live past that night let alone nearly another 20 years.
And live I have - sometimes with wild abandon and other times quietly and at peace. As stranger and stranger health issues crop up (due to the aggressive chemotherapy I received) and I remain a medical oddity, I triage myself and move on. Since I wasn't expected to live, no physician can predict the toll the cure took and how long it will rob me of certain abilities. Am I scared? Heck yeah.
This is why I try to choose to live each day as if it was my last while I dance like nobody's watching. That's doesn't mean I'm always Happy like Pharell Williams sings; nor does it mean I escape tragedy. Those of you who follow my blog know that I am brutally honest about the issues I face. No one is more surprised than me that I am able to face these challenges time and time again, especially the suicide of my brother, Steve Crohn.
I don't really want to celebrate this year. My brother's death occurred on August 24, 2013, just two days before my birthday. He sent me a card that arrived a few days later. It reads: "On your birthday, remember that every day is a gift. So pretend tomorrow is from me." At first, I thought it was a joke. Slowly but surely, I've come to accept that he was giving me permission to live many tomorrows even though he wouldn't be here.
At 54, I'm going to do something I vowed I would never do. I'm going to get a tattoo on my ankle of my brother's paint palette and paintbrush. The tattoo artist is working on a sketch now using his actual palette as a guide.
As I work to revise my book DYING TO LIVE: Running backwards through cancer, Lupus, and chronic illness, I am mindful of the many changes that have occurred in my life since I first wrote it. The title will change, the 'innards' will change, its scientific references will be updated and I will have to stop myself from writing a brand new book.
That's okay. I'm here; even if I had to die a hundred deaths in the past 18 years to stay.