The author on her birthday. Image: Mamamia.
I sat there giggling (Serge thought I was a complete fruit loop) at the thought of trying to communicate that this, once again, may be my last birthday so lets celebrate in style — how many ‘last’ birthdays can someone have?
A few weeks ago it was my birthday.
I was very much looking forward to the day/week and was excited (like the 23 birthdays prior), but instead I was gifted with an emotional break down.
My break down was not because I didn’t get lots of love from my family and friends. It wasn’t because certain family members or friends could not be there to celebrate.
Instead, it was 100% my fault — I put too much pressure on this celebration. I put too much pressure on making memories. I put too much pressure on making sure that this birthday was worthy of being potentially my last.
I remember last year being upset on my birthday, because we most definitely thought that it would have been my last birthday. I had been told that I only had 3 months to live 5 months earlier and this was still very much at the forefront of my mind…and my family and friends.
Last year, we went all out. My sister from Mackay made sure she was there for the day. Serge and I went out for a special dinner at ARIA. And, my best friends and I went away for a weekend together.
So what an anticlimax! I am still here and I saw another birthday. What a disaster! (Obviously written with a degree of humour…). How can you top your last birthday that was supposed to be your LAST BIRTHDAY EVER?!?
A month ago, I went to create a Facebook event to organise birthday festivities with my friends and I found it hilarious. I sat there giggling (Serge thought I was a complete fruit loop) at the thought of trying to communicate that this, once again, may be my last birthday so let's celebrate in style — how many ‘last’ birthdays can someone have? I settled with calling the event, ‘Another birthday! Woohoo!’.
Plans for this birthday were to be drawn out, but not as elaborate as last year. I was definitely less needy (very hard to believe, I know!). My sister was in Brisbane the week before my birthday with her baby, so we had an early family birthday that included pavlova for breakfast and the craziest cake for dinner. Then for my actual birthday, Serge and I were to spend the day and evening together. If that wasn’t already enough, we also had a day at Dreamworld with the family and drinks with my friends. I really managed to prolong having all the attention on me.
So it sounds like it was all pretty fabulous, but unfortunately on my actual birthday, I stayed at home and pretty much cried all day. I don’t think I even cried this much the day I was told that I had terminal cancer (that day I drowned my sorrows at Sushi Train…not even joking!).
I felt like a real idiot and very selfish for participating in some very pointless crying.
I should feel grateful that I was celebrating another year of life.
I should be like most normal people who don’t care how they spend their birthday.
Looking back on my emotional breakdown and after receiving so many words of support from the Dear Melanoma Facebook community, I definitely learnt that I need to cut myself some slack and that these feelings are common amongst many patients with terminal illness, as well as their families.
When you know that your time is limited, you put so much emphasis on making every moment, especially special events, count. I think this is why I hate the phrases, ‘live in the moment’ or ‘live each day like it’s your last’. Receiving that advice may be refreshing for some, but for me it is pressure. It is pressure to be happy and enjoy every moment. It is also the feeling that people expect that you are having or will have a fantastic day. I definitely planned to enjoy my birthday. I had planned a week that was full of everything one needs to make their birthday amazing.
Some people like to offer the most frustrating advice. Yes, I comprehend that anyone could be hit by a car tomorrow and their birthday could be their last, and so, we should all ‘live in the moment’ — a big thank you to those people that like to remind me of that. BUT, I am sorry, this is a little different. No one walks around thinking ‘I could be hit by a car and killed today, I better have a cake for breakfast’. Whereas, I have been told that melanoma will kill me. I know the statistics. I have a good idea of when my time will come. And, there is not one day that goes by that I am not reminded that I have terminal cancer.
I don’t think there is anyway of changing this pressure. I think it is just part of my life now. I am not going to stop putting emphasis on special events and making memories. I am going to celebrate every event in style — definitely when it includes pavlova for breakfast!
But, what I can control is how I respond to these emotions when they get too overwhelming and it is as simple as accepting them. No more feeling guilty about how I feel. It is what it is and I will cry like a baby when I need to. All I can do is hope that tomorrow is a better day, and more times than not, it is.
This article was originally published on Dear Melanoma. You can find it, and follow Emma Betts’ story here.