I can hardly believe that the month of April is already upon us! This seems to be a statement that I make every year considering April is the month that holds my birthday. When celebrating the promise of the New Year in January, it feels like April will never come. But, before I know it, the first day of spring arrives in March and my birthday is just around the corner on the fourth of April.
On my special day, I cannot help but take a few moments to think about birthdays and the cancer journey. For some, a birthday is a day to celebrate the distance we have traveled since the word cancer entered our lives. For others, a birthday is a day to remember and honor the life of a person who passed away. And, to others, a birthday may be just another day in the year.
Regardless of your feelings about birthdays now that cancer is a part of your life, I hope you are in a place where you are able to embrace your feelings and acknowledge that they may or may not change. We are all different in the ways that we choose to recognize milestones in our lives. Some people love celebrating and others do not. I encourage you to do what feels right for you in the moment as sometimes that is the best that we can do.
The way that I spend my birthday has remained consistent throughout the years. Whether it is the actual day or the week of my birthday (yes, sometimes I celebrate for an entire week), I have always spent the time surrounded in love of family and friends. My personal perspective is that birthdays are a time to celebrate life. I choose to do this every year with those who mean the most to me.
The meaning of birthdays and my feelings around them have changed over the years. As I get older, I have found that my feelings of gratefulness and peace within myself grow as each birthday arrives. As my life becomes more beautiful with my career, relationships and opportunities, I feel blessed that I am given the chance on my birthday to celebrate past experiences and look forward to the bright year ahead of me. Progressing into young adulthood as a cancer survivor has given me many gifts; a few of them being the ability to recognize that birthdays are special and that it is important to me to take time to celebrate how far I have come on my journey.
How has the cancer journey impacted your perspective on birthdays?
Amy Chmielewski, MSSA, MA, LSW, is an oncology social worker at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. Amy’s cancer experience has inspired her career of supporting individuals and families on their own cancer journey. Amy is currently in her eighth year of survivorship from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She is also greatly involved in the cancer community. Amy is a volunteer in the children’s program at The Gathering Place and serves on the Patient Services Committee for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) Northern Ohio Chapter. Amy’s awards include the LLS Patient Services Hope Award and Dean’s Award for Outstanding Student Achievement from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. Amy is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University, where she earned two master’s degrees in social work and bioethics. Amy is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book. She enjoys writing and speaking in the cancer community to raise awareness about young adults with cancer.