Many Happy Returns


Last February, my doctor called,

her voice shaken as she told me

I had cancer. Not an oncologist,

not the sort of news she often

delivers, and to one so relatively

young. It was a few days, or maybe

weeks — everything blurs already —

before they gave me a prognosis.

They’d caught it early, the dice roll

in my favor, everything would

(probably) be fine.


So here we are, halfway through

a year of treatment, the disease

mostly gone. From this point on,

it’s prophylactic, searching for any

microcancers, waging war against

the possibility of recurrence. Let us

starve and poison the beast, let us

cut and burn the ground, denying

it re-entry. That’s the hope.


My birthday, and the kind wishes

are pouring in. Hopes for many

happy returns, and I am grateful,

remembering that February day,

the cold wind sleeting outside

my office. I sat alone with the news,

waiting until I had stopped shaking

enough to drive safely home.


That day, I did not know if I

would live to see this birthday.

Cancer is the second leading

cause of death in America, right

after heart disease. One or the

other will likely get me, get you,

in the end. This is what it is

to have a birthday — we come

with expiration dates as well.


All we can hope is that between

beginning and end, there lives

a great exuberance — of friends

and family, love and laughter,

balloons and presents and cake.