More Birthdays! Celebrating Survival

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • Cancer = death! 


    Birthdays = old = bad!


    What a strange world we live in.  If you have been shopping for a birthday card for someone over 25 recently, you have sorted through many laments about the pain of growing old.  If you or a loved one have heard the word "cancer" from the doctor, your automatic first thought was probably "death."  So in our society growing old is bad, and so is dying.  But the truth is that the only way to avoid growing old is dying young.


    The American Cancer Society (ACS) currently has a brilliant ad campaign that turns our automatic associations with the words "cancer" and "birthdays" all around.  You may have seen some of these ads on television.

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    One ad shows people joyously celebrating birthdays with the voice over saying, "Imagine a world with more birthdays.  Imagine a world where cancer is scarce."  Another highlights the work that the ACS has done to make more birthdays possible. 


    Ending with the phrase "The American Cancer Society:  Official Sponsor of Birthdays," these ads are turning our associations with cancer and birthdays all around.  They suggest having another birthday is a great joy, and the work of the ACS will give more people more birthdays.  From the More Birthdays website, you can send a free music video wishing someone a happy birthday and learn more about preventing and treating cancer.  Of course, the site also provides ways make a donation.  


    When the campaign started in 2009, Elizabeth T. H. Fontham, the ACS national volunteer president said, "We're proud that we have contributed to a 15 percent decrease in the cancer death rate since the 1990's. In recent years, nearly 100,000 more people are celebrating birthdays annually. Eleven million survivors in the U.S. will have a birthday this year and that's something to celebrate."


    The reason I have been thinking about the ACS campaign is that this week was both my birthday and "cancer-versary".  It was on my fiftieth birthday that I learned I had inflammatory breast cancer.  The word "death" was heavy in the air and dogged me for several years until I began to get the confidence that I might live to be old.


    So like many people, I often dread my birthday.  It stirs up many sad and scary memories.  But I do not dread my birthday because it is a signal that I am growing old.  Growing older is good because it means that my chances to be a really old lady are increasing.  A few years ago, I didn't expect that I would ever have my parents' life span.  My father died at age 93, and we recently celebrated my mother's 90th birthday.  Living fifteen months to see our daughter graduate from college and our son from high school was my big hope the day I heard the word "cancer" applied to me.


    Yet I also welcome my birthday--the day I get to add another candle to the cake--not only for my years on this earth, but also for my years as a cancer survivor.  This year is lucky thirteen of surviving cancer. 


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    On my birthday I had fun blowing out the candles on a cell phone birthday cake with the ACS free birthday app.  Our two-year-old grandson sang "Happy Birthday" to me over the phone, and I had lovely birthday chats with both our children who have grown up to be wonderful adults.  My husband and I put off our celebration dinner until tonight because it has been an incredibly busy week at work.  We will celebrate being alive and growing old.  Thanks to the work of the American Cancer Society and all the other organizations dedicated to fighting cancer, it looks like being a little old lady might really be in my future.


Published On: April 23, 2011