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Cancer and Birthdays: Yes, You Can Do Both

For the first time in 16 years, I celebrated my birthday in Connecticut, where I grew up. Being with a few high school friends, my sisters and my mother was a great way to celebrate another trip around the earth. But I missed the old birthday tradition.

Art and I started a birthday tradition when we first started living together. I don’t remember on whose birthday the tradition started but I do remember the first celebration in our apartment in Norwalk, CT. The tradition included:

  1. Pancakes made in the shape of your age. (Yes, before we had kids, two grown adults would make pancakes in the shape the others’ age!)

  2. Breakfast in bed

  3. Your favorite meal for dinner, preferable served on a dish you made when you were five. (Here is the link to MakIt Kit. Good for kids AND adults!)

Over the next few years as our family expanded, this tradition also included:

  1. Balloons, streamers and a happy birthday sign, hung over or around the kitchen table.

  2. Cake made with homemade frosting (best recipe EVER included below) and your favorite flavor jam replacing the frosting in the middle of the two layer cake. (Thanks, Mom!)

  3. Opening one gift from each immediate family member in the morning. The remainder of gifts from others were opened after dinner.

It didn’t matter on what day the birthday fell; this was how we celebrated which meant sometimes people were late for school or work!

Then Art got cancer. His 42nd and 44th birthdays were spent in the hospital.

Art's 42 birthday in the middle of stem cell treatment

Art's 42nd birthday. Stem cell transplant in progress.

Bathroom door decorations which I had to cleared by the doctor.

Having breakfast in bed isn’t so special if you eat every meal in bed.

I didn’t make pancakes in the shape of 42 and 44 because cold pancakes just don’t feel special. But we decorated the rooms and...he got to open all of his gifts at once, because you gotta be nice to the guy with cancer.

Ezra looks on as Art opens Ezra's gift

Art's 44th and last birthday. Cards that friends and family sent.

The birthday cards displayed in Art's hospital room.

These were just the ones that fit into the bag I carried them in.

Never too old for a birthday hat!

The kids and Art enjoying the moment.

Our birthday tradition was important to Art.

Keeping this tradition alive could not have been done without the help of our friends.

Birthday (and other) traditions can be hard to keep up when cancer is part of the equation. They take time and energy that your friend with cancer and/or their care giver just doesn’t have.

And that is where you come in.



Really, it's that simple. Say something like “I know that having cancer screws with your daily life and I know your (son’s, daughter’s, partner’s, etc) birthday is coming up. I’d like to help you celebrate you/them? Do you have any traditions I can help you with or organize others to help with?”

Also remember to ask more than once. Some of these people with cancer are just stubborn! :D

Help your friend with cancer keep a birthday tradition going or … maybe make up a new one!

You matter!

Best Vanilla Frosting recipe ever.

3 cups of powdered sugar

1/3 cup butter softened (Really -- it has to be softened, not melted!!!)

1 1/2 tsp of vanilla (although we always did 1 3/4 tsps)

1 - 3 tablespoons (or more) of milk. (Almond milk works really great as well.)

In a bowl add everything but the 2 tablespoons of milk. Gradually beat in the remaining milk. Lick the beaters when you are done.

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