About a dozen well wishers gathered last Sunday afternoon to celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend. To the outside world, the gathering may have seemed pleasant but ordinary. After all, people have birthdays every day of the year. But to us, our felicitations for our friend marked something even more special: new life.
One year ago, that same friend was fighting for her life after a diagnosis of advanced stage cancer. On her birthday, she was in a medical facility preparing for an intensive few months of chemotherapy and radiation in a bid to save both her life and her quality of life. I remember bringing her a battery-operated candle to brighten the sterile atmosphere of her room in that facility. And I remember the uncertainty and fear.
Over the past year, a few friends and I have tried our best to help our friend get through treatment, deal with insurance, and make sure her home, car, and bills were taken care of. With no family, she would have been truly alone in the world. All of us juggled our own family responsibilities in order to be there for her as much as possible. Sadly, one of us, herself afflicted with cancer, passed away.
A year later, my friend is 50 pounds slimmer and cancer free. All her hair has come back gloriously, and there are only a few small scars to reveal what she has been through this past year. When she showed up to her birthday party in her new skinny jeans, we were all delighted. She’d earned that piece of cake, let me tell you.
Life is a mystery, and cancer is one of the greatest medical enigmas of our times. Why does one woman succumb to her cancer while another recovers? Why does a wife lose her young husband and have to raise young children on her own – or vice versa? What makes one person live to a ripe old age and another die young?
Obviously, I don’t have the answers to those questions. I can only do my best to live a healthy life, to care for my family and friends, and to celebrate life no matter the circumstances. I pray that my friend and all the people I love have the chance to blow out many more birthday candles before they leave this Earth. And I hope I am on hand to help them enjoy that cake.