Each Birthday Brings Another Year and Another Miracle

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by Anna Jeter |

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accommodations, birthday, survival, nurses

I still remember sitting on the couch with my mom on the eve of my 15th birthday. We were talking about how old I was getting, and after a brief pause, she said softly, “Every year for you is a miracle, you know.”

I don’t remember how I responded, but I do recall every detail of that moment because at that age, it was the closest my mom had ever come to talking openly with me about my prognosis. She said it not as a warning, but with great awe and tenderness.

Growing up, my parents raised me with bravery amid my pulmonary hypertension diagnosis. My mother was never eager to talk about statistics. She refused to believe they applied to me. And so moments like this, when we were upfront about my circumstance, did not happen frequently.

This memory always highlights why my birthdays have felt complicated — something I’m starting to realize is not uncommon for those of us with chronic or terminal illnesses. Each year gained can feel like an undeserved gift, an uphill fight, or a miracle that is running out. We can have survivor’s guilt one year, and anxiety amid poor health the next. It’s a pendulum that often creates a dreadful sense of uncertainty in my gut in the week leading up to June 8, and I never know how I’ll feel once the day arrives.

Because of these feelings, I often don’t enjoy my birthday. In fact, my mom will attest that I often become quite grumpy by the end of the day. I think this may be because I feel pressure for it to be celebrated perfectly. Pardon the melodrama, but what if it’s the last one?

And then there are the years when I’ve been so excited for birthday plans only to end up having a bad health day. All of this buildup falls flat as I make a wish on candles, still uncertain of what comes next.

With that said, I have also celebrated wonderful birthdays. One of my favorites was two months before my heart-lung transplant. I turned 23 that year. Despite the nebulous, gray cloud that was my future sitting before me, it was still a very sweet time in my life. I had a job I loved with people I loved, and I was just settling into my true self after shedding the conformist influence of my college years.

That night, I had a work party downtown, something my co-workers and I got all dressed up for. My friends surprised me by showing up throughout the evening, and at the end of the night, in this beautiful space with so many lovely souls, my boss (and dear friend) carried a glowing cake toward me. All together, everyone at the function, many of them strangers, sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

When I blew out the candles, I felt like I finally understood what my future could look like. It all felt incredibly special, existing within my life that had held so much grief, and I was so grateful that the moment belonged to me.

Anna celebrates her 23rd birthday with her boss in 2018. (Courtesy of Anna Jeter)

Too quickly, transplant left a deep wound, in both me and this vision. The year following transplant I turned 24 quietly, and I was just beginning to feel myself again and had a great deal of recovery ahead of me. My 25th birthday passed insignificantly at home in COVID-19 quarantine. Now, here I am writing this on the eve of my 26th year.

This week has held peace for me in a way I haven’t known before. I don’t feel eager to put a name on it. All I know is that I’m in a place right now where my life is finally beginning to take shape, as it had been three years ago. I’m developing a rhythm for my future again. And that is a great gift for someone who has not always believed she would have one.

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Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

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