My 70th Birthday is tomorrow—Yikes! How did that happen and where did the years go to?
In February 2021, when I was 68, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After two surgeries—a lumpectomy and then a mastectomy, I finally started chemotherapy on April 20th. Two days later was Janet’s 69th birthday. I was feeling OK despite having had my first chemo infusion two days earlier, so when Bill invited me to her birthday party I decided to go. All her kids were there (except John, who has no interaction with his father), and they had a cookout. I managed to eat a hot dog, hamburger, and salad. The whole time I was there, Janet sat in her living room rocker, bundled up in a blanket. She was always cold because she had no meat on her—she was skin and bones. Everybody kept asking, “Mom, come and eat” at which she waved her hand in disgust, as if we were offering her worms, so she never had one bite. I started to speak to her when I first got there, and she conspiratorially said to me that she couldn’t talk because Bill would hear her. I told her that Bill was outside cooking with two doors closed and she still said her famous, “He has big ears.” I asked if he had bionic hearing, and she didn’t answer me.
I was told that day that the stem-cell transplant done for her MDS had basically stopped working and she had developed leukemia. Bill was talking about getting her another stem-cell transplant and the kids and I looked at each other with a silent acknowledgement that this was a crazy idea: that putting her through that horrific regimen would be a total mistake, and for what? She had severe dementia at this point and I’m not sure how she got it but apparently, she had been in a steady decline for several years, according to April.
Fast forward to July 2021: April told me that she was not doing well. At first, she was in the hospital and Bill, in his hope to prolong her waning life, was still almost force-feeding her. This caused a huge rift between the kids, especially April and Bill. April just wanted him to stop trying to keep her alive and just let her go and he refused, thinking (selfishly) that he just didn’t want to say goodbye. Finally, they got her in home hospice with a hospital bed for the living room and that is where she stayed until she passed. At first April told me that it would not be a good idea for me to visit her since she was sleeping most of the time, but one day she texted and said if I wanted to, I could come over to the house that day because she was somewhat awake. I went over and she actually recognized me which gave me some solace. She was in and out of consciousness at that point and the hospice nurse said it could be any time. We were essentially on death watch. I don’t know the exact date that she died, but it was around July 20st or so. But on July 23rd her funeral was held. I know this so well because it was the day before my birthday. At that point I didn’t mourn her the way I would’ve if she had died suddenly, because she had been slipping away from me gradually over a period of years.
So, today, July 23, 2022, is a whole year since her funeral. She never even made it to 70. We used to joke that we would be in a nursing home and still trying to sell houses (that thing we did for a few years, among others, when I moved here}.
Now here I am, alone—my two best friends, Janet and Jane, have left me. I am now on the cusp of my 70th birthday and I feel so lost without them. Jane died a few years before, of what I do not know. She had MS, a heart condition, and diabetes, and she wasn’t even that old. When she died, I was so upset and devastated because I had just spoken to her recently and she seemed like she was doing well. Her family had all but abandoned her and they never even had an autopsy done to determine the cause of death. I suspect it was a heart attack. But the building super got into the apartment when nobody had seen her for a few days and found her. She was only 63.
I feel like a survivor, having gone through so much in my 60s, namely the horrific spinal tumor on T3 of my spinal cord, which prevented me from walking properly, and had constant nerve pain, a partially paralyzed thin right leg, which was cold to the touch from the knee down, etc. It was a nightmare and lasted for 4 months until it was diagnosed and I had surgery. Luckily, the tumor was benign as meningiomas usually are. Then there was the recent cancer diagnosis, and everything related to that—and here I still am—Still Standing (as Elton John’s song goes). Then of course there was the constant trauma due to having a mentally ill adult child living in the street.
I have been stressed and depressed about the idea that I would be officially OLD as DIRT, but now that the day has almost arrived, it is OK. I have a sense of relief that I basically look the same as I did last year and haven’t changed much. I always thought that when you turned 70, you were officially OLD and turned into a pumpkin. Wow, how that has changed. I see people like Becky who will be 75 in August, and she is on the go travelling all the time. She has an amazing zest for life that I wish I had. I asked her how she felt to be in her 70s and she said she loves it. Conversely, Margie will be 70 in December, and she said it didn’t bother her at all.
As of this writing, things have gotten infinitely better: I finished chemo and am on drugs to just prevent recurrence. I am grateful that it was Stage 1 and not metastatic and we want to keep it that way. Joseph has a subsidized apartment now (although he still has crazy thinking), he is on meds, seeing a shrink and therapist, and sounds somewhat sane when I speak to him (but not always). David now speaks to his dad, and Joseph which is monumental.
Yes, hopefully this next part of my life will be easier with less problems. But life is life and there are no guarantees that things will go smoothly, but if I keep on trucking, going forward one day at a time, try not to get bogged down with the small things (which is not always easy), try not to compare and feel jealousy (which is sometimes my nemesis), I may find that I can get through and maybe just maybe be happy. Happiness is something I almost never feel, but every once in a while, it comes over me when I am outside on a sunny warm day walking in the morning. It is sudden and swift and surprises me. It’s as if a ray of sunshine has opened up in my soul and I can breathe for a little while. The trick is keeping that feeling for more than just a few minutes. Maybe this is the decade that I will finally find the elusive and lasting feeling of happiness for no special reason other than just being alive.