Woman leaps over hole carrying birthday candle

Turning 50 With Blood Cancer

I quietly turned 50 at the end of May this year. I’ve never been too much into celebrating my yearly milestones. I did have a nice 50th birthday because I got to spend it with two of my kids. My daughter made the meals that day, my son helped with chores, and I got to rest and relax more than usual.

What I thought life would look like at 50

In younger years, it was hard to imagine myself at 50. Aging was something that mostly seemed to happen to other people. When I pictured life at 50, I saw myself still running, teaching, and maybe even remarrying.

But then 47 happened. In the spring of 2018, as I was teaching my statistics students about outliers, I became one. The odds of being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in my age group were less than 5 in 100,000. And I didn’t fit the profile at all since most myeloma patients are over 65, non-white and male.1

What life actually looked like at 50

So when I turned 50, my life looked completely different than how I had envisioned it. I am no longer teaching nor running, and I am still single. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that at 50 I would be living alone with an incurable form of blood cancer.

Instead of chatting with potential partners on dating sites, I message myeloma patients in online support groups. No longer teaching math, I write articles about living with blood cancer. And instead of running, I casually walk my (unofficial) emotional support dog, Ziggy.

I think I might have even aged a little.

A 50th birthday is a gift denied to many

Although my life at 50 is different than I imagined, 50 has grown on me. For one, I like the number. It has a nice look to it. It’s even, and it represents 5 decades -- a full half-century of life.

A 50th birthday is a gift denied many with cancer. Several friends and classmates did not get to see their 50th birthdays. My young friend, Sarah, recently died of metastatic breast cancer, and she would have given anything to see 50.

Shortly before I turned 50, I had taken a break from writing. Several close friends had passed away, and I had fallen into a rut by taking in too much news and social media. I didn’t know what to write about anymore, and I wasn’t sure what even mattered. I felt like I was just watching and waiting, feeling more helpless and hopeless in a world in which people increasingly weren't being kind to each other.

And, as if to add to my stress, my dog began jumping over the fence and racing wildly through the neighborhood. While he was experiencing the joy of freedom at 50 (mph), I endured the angst of wondering if my best friend would arrive home in one piece. With a lot of help from my kids and a friend, I set out to build a taller fence.

The fence project gradually took on a life of its own and helped to remind me of the joy that comes from doing and creating. As I cleaned up the edges of my yard that had become overgrown with weeds and decaying vegetation, I also cleared out the neglected areas in my mind that had become tangled with regrets and unmet expectations of my past.

How I’m celebrating being 50

I felt myself becoming inspired to do new and different things, and I began writing them down. Then it occurred to me that to celebrate life at 50, I would do 50 new and different things before I turn 51. It’s an easy and enjoyable goal, and I’m already over half-way there. The list reminds me to keep adding toward my future instead of accumulating more of my past. No matter my age or health status, I never want to stop experiencing the child-like wonder, joy, and curiosity of earlier years.

I’ll be writing about each of these 50 things on my personal blog in the coming months. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Now that I’m 50, I am more likely to do both.

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