I sit in front of the bathroom mirror and speak out loud to the aging woman looking back at me.
“This is your last night as 48. You’ll never be this age again and tomorrow you put this year behind you.”
I pause. Thinning hair, a puffy face, and dark circles under my eyes mean I can’t deny the toll the years, and now chemo, are taking on my body. I resist the habit to internally nitpick at my appearance and remind myself that this body is serving me well.
I brush the hair behind my ears and spend a minute thinking positive thoughts about my reflection.
“You’re alive, getting stronger, and have a new year full of unknown adventures to look forward to.”
I pull on my lavender pj’s, light my butterfly candle for Shawn and Mike as I tell them I miss them, and crawl into bed.
I hear the patter of his toenails quickly crossing the tile floor of the living room, skidding around the corner, before appearing at the door. Within seconds a plume of fur is leaping onto the bed. He sticks his landing like a seasoned gymnast and wastes no time beginning ‘the snuggle’ – burrowing his head into my side and rolling onto his back. I know enough to keep at least one hand in constant petting motion lest his 50-lbs-of-neediness feel anxious that I’ve stopped. After about twenty minutes of full-on Yiska time, he settles down and I switch on the TV.
It’s Monday, and my 49th birthday has begun like any other weekday. I enter the cancer center and check in, where I’m given a plastic puck similar to what the Olive Garden gives those waiting for a table. Before long the puck is flashing and buzzing and I know to check in for my blood draw. The numbing cream I applied earlier does its job and the needle goes into my port without much pain. After the vials are drawn we leave the needle inserted and a dangling tube hangs from my chest as I head upstairs for my infusion. I glance around for an empty chair in the waiting room and I notice some patients sizing me up. I do it too. It’s hard not to look at the others and wonder what cancer their battling and how they’re doing in their fight.
All these people fighting cancer. The thought is sobering but the room feels positive today.
There’s a buzz of cheerful conversations, greetings among friends, and ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ over Babe, the therapy dog. The little girl in me wants to announce to the room that it’s my birthday, but my shy adult side finds a quiet corner, and begins reading email messages instead.
A few hours later, as the arsenic drips steadily into my port, I hear my name in the hallway.
“We’re looking for Sara. What room is Sara in?”
Through the doorway, a bouquet of flowers appears first, followed by my Mom and Dad with sheepish grins. My day is suddenly not like any other day, as I open cards and visit with my parents. We talk about Marina, dad’s haircut, the dogs… my health. And then it’s time for them to leave.
A nurse swings by and I ask her to take my picture.
Six hours from the time I arrived I’m heading home, riding the brake pedal in stop and go traffic as buses drop students off on street corners. As I open the door, Yiska bursts through, giving me his best ‘long lost friend’ greeting. His entire body wags and his back legs tremble in excitement as we hug each other.
“How’re you doing, baby doll? Are you hungry?”
I head for the kitchen and the chemo treatment calendar hanging on the fridge door. With a large red marker I cross off today, adding extra flare to my X.
Before bed, I pause in front of the bathroom mirror again and smile at my 49 year old reflection.
Happy birthday. You did good today.
I pull on my yellow pj’s, light my butterfly candle for Shawn and Mike as I tell them I miss them, and crawl into bed.
He sticks the landing…