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Why Birthdays Are a Big Deal for Someone With a Chronic Illness

My best friend and I where in a fight, but I needed someone to talk to. My head was spinning from the reality of the situation I was in, and I needed someone to be my anchor.

I called my best friend sobbing, and left a message similar to this:

“I need to talk. I went to a GI doctor appointment today and it was an absolute failure. They still can’t figure out what’s going on, and I can honestly feel myself slipping away. I don’t honestly know if I’m going to survive this. I don’t know if I’m going to live much longer. And I just don’t know what to do.”

I was 19 when I made this phone call.

My weight kept on dropping. I couldn’t keep anything down. My hair was falling out. My urine was full of ketones (which meant my body was using fat for energy instead of glucose because I didn’t have enough insulin in my blood). I was completely IV-dependent for nutrition. Different parts of my body where beginning to “malfunction.” And not a single doctor could tell me why.

I was dying, and no doctor could tell me why.

At that time in my life, I didn’t think I would make it to the age of 20. And tomorrow, I have the absolute privilege of turning 22.

When people ask, “Why are you so big on birthdays?!” I tell them it’s because I didn’t realize how valuable and what a blessing aging is until I realized that privilege could have been taken away from me.

When I look back on my life, and reflect on all the times I could have died, it’s astounding. Right now I am alive because of a medical treatment we found by accident! I also live in a body that is constantly attacking itself, and lately I’m really noticing the reality of that honestly terrifying situation.

It seems as though with each doctor appointment I go to, the news about my health gets less and less “optimistic.” And it’s truly made me realize how lucky I am each day I wake up with a beating heart and semi-functional organs. And one day that luck could end.

The gift which is life could be taken away from any of us, healthy or not, at any moment.

So as long as I get the gift of a pulse and air in my lungs, I’m going to treat birthdays and life in general like they are a very big deal. I’m going to celebrate every time I survive another year and I’m going to celebrate when people I love have the same accomplishment.

I’m going to love each wrinkle and laugh line and gray hair I have the privilege of receiving – because not everyone gets the privilege of growing older.

Life isn’t a promise. It’s a gift.

I’m determined to take this gift of life I’ve been given and love and use it fully, until that fateful day it’s taken from me.

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Thinkstock photo via moodboard.