After surviving cancer in my 40s, each birthday now feels like a victory. Here’s how facing mortality made me truly embrace living.

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I get it, birthdays can sometimes feel like just another day, right? Just a notch on the timeline, a reminder that we’re all getting older.

But for me, turning a year older isn’t just about blowing out candles or cutting cake. It’s about victory. A loud, defiant cheer in the face of something that once threatened to cut my celebrations short.

In my 40s, I faced off with cancer. And let me tell you, it changed things. You don’t come out of that battle without some scars and a whole new perspective on life.

Now, each birthday isn’t just a day; it’s a milestone. A mark of triumph that I’m still here, still kicking, and embracing every moment of this crazy ride called living.

After staring down my mortality, I’ve learned to truly embrace life in ways I never expected. And I want to share that with you.

So let’s dive into how surviving cancer rewrote my definition of living, and why every birthday now feels like so much more than just another year.

Gratitude in the small moments

You know those tiny, everyday things we all take for granted?

The smell of coffee in the morning, the sound of laughter, the feeling of fresh sheets. I used to overlook them too, until cancer put everything into perspective.

Now, I find a deep sense of gratitude in these small moments. They remind me I’m alive and present.

I remember sitting in the chemo room, watching the drip feed into my veins, thinking about all the little things I missed from my ‘normal’ life.

Now, when I wake up to the sound of birds or share a meal with friends, it hits differently. I savor it, because there was a time when I feared I might not get to experience those joys again.

Living with intention

Before cancer, I’ll be honest, I was on autopilot. Work, eat, sleep, repeat. But when you’ve had a showdown with your own mortality, autopilot just doesn’t cut it anymore.

These days, each day is deliberate. Each choice is more thoughtful. It’s about living with intention.

Take my job for example—I used to grind away for the sake of it. Now? I choose projects that ignite my passion and make time for hobbies that feed my soul. 

And yes, that includes turning down opportunities that don’t align with what makes my life meaningful. Because if cancer taught me anything, it’s that time is precious and shouldn’t be wasted on things that don’t matter to you deeply.

Embracing new beginnings

Ever since my battle, I’ve noticed something that extends beyond my own story: Many survivors become initiators of change. It’s as if the experience flips a switch inside you. 

For me, each birthday since has been a launchpad for something new—a hobby, a skill, even a fresh outlook on life. 

This isn’t coincidence. Research suggests that life-threatening illnesses often lead to significant personal transformation. We become more willing to step out of our comfort zones and try new things. 

So with each birthday, I lean into that shift. I’ve started learning languages, picked up gardening, and even jumped out of a plane—because why not? 

These new beginnings keep life exhilarating, reminding me that the best way to celebrate another year is by filling it with new experiences and growth.

Connecting on a deeper level

Every year that I get to add a candle to my cake, I find myself reflecting on the relationships that have held me up through the toughest times. 

There’s an indescribable bond that forms when someone stands with you in the midst of a storm. The conversations I have now are richer; they’re not just exchanges of pleasantries but genuine connections that touch the soul.

I’ve learned the value of a listening ear and the strength found in a shared silence. It’s these deep connections that not only helped pull me through the darkest days of illness but also continue to illuminate my path in life. 

With every birthday, I’m reminded of the love and support that surrounds me, and it fills me with an overwhelming sense of peace and belonging. This isn’t just about making friends; it’s about nurturing bonds that transcend the usual and become lifelines.

Choosing joy every day

Since my battle with cancer, I’ve made a pact with myself to seek out joy in every day, no matter how small. 

I remember one particular morning, not long after my treatment had ended, when I noticed the way the sunlight filtered through my kitchen window, casting a warm, golden glow over everything it touched.

It was such a simple moment, but it felt like the universe was giving me a gentle nudge, a reminder to keep looking for the light.

Now, I don’t wait for joy to come knocking; I actively pursue it. Whether it’s playing my favorite music on the way to work or spending an extra minute with my pet at the door, these choices are my daily rebellion against the fear and uncertainty that once consumed me.

They are my affirmation to the world—and to myself—that I am here, I am alive, and I will not let the beauty of life pass me by unnoticed.

Reevaluating priorities

The journey through illness can be like holding a magnifying glass to your life, highlighting what truly matters. I used to chase career milestones, thinking promotions and professional recognition were the pinnacles of success. 

Now, my priorities have shifted dramatically.

Health, time with family, and the pursuit of passions have taken the front seat. The cliché “you can’t take it with you” resonates on a deeper level when you’ve wrestled with your mortality. 

Each birthday prompts me to ask myself if I’m living in accordance with my true priorities. And if not, it’s a call to action—a nudge to realign my daily life with the values that cancer forced me to hold dear.

Fostering resilience

With each birthday that passes, I celebrate not just the gift of age but the resilience that’s grown within me. It’s a quiet confidence that whatever challenges come my way, I have the strength to face them head-on.

This manifests in many aspects of life—whether it’s tackling a problem at work or standing up for what I believe in.

The fight for survival leaves you with a tenacity that seeps into every action you take, a hard-earned badge of honor that says, “I’ve been through the worst and came out standing.”

Living for others

One surprising turn my post-cancer life took was the newfound drive to give back.

Celebrating another year isn’t just about me; it’s about how I can use my experience to impact others.

Whether it’s volunteering, fundraising for cancer research, or simply being there for someone going through their own health battle, giving back has added a layer of purpose to my celebrations.

This isn’t just my story—many who survive serious illnesses often develop a strong desire to contribute to society. 

My birthdays are now markers of not only how long I’ve lived but also how much I can offer. It’s a beautiful cycle: the more I help others, the more fulfilled I feel, and the more life becomes worth celebrating.

Celebrating change and growth

Lastly, each birthday serves as a testament to change and personal growth. Cancer was a catalyst for transformation, pushing me out of complacency and into a life of constant evolution.

I’m not the person I was in my 30s, nor even who I was last year—and that’s something to celebrate.

I’ve learned new skills, changed opinions on important matters, and adapted to life’s ever-shifting landscape. Embracing change has become second nature because when you’ve faced down death, the fear of trying something new pales in comparison.

So here I am, another year older, wiser, and full of gratitude for the chance to keep evolving. Every birthday is more than just a personal victory over cancer; it’s a celebration of life’s infinite capacity for change and the beautiful complexity of the human spirit.

In sharing these reflections, I hope you find encouragement and strength, whether you’re facing your own battles or simply seeking inspiration to live more fully. 

Here’s to embracing every victory, big or small.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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