By, Judy Rough
My perspective on aging might be a bit different from others. When I was 47 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had 6 tumors in my right breast and the treatment was a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy. Due to the fact that I was alive in an era where these medical advances were available to me, I continue to live 14 years later at this point.
Living is very different now versus pre-cancer life. I have painful neuropathy in my feet every day for the last 14 years. Many of my internal organs have not always been happy post-chemo. In medical terms, I am probably not considered a “healthy” person. When it comes to my emotional and psychological health, I am in tip top shape. I maintain a positive attitude and luckily I can move freely and easily.
If I lived at another time or in another place, if I had inadequate medical care, if I had a terrible attitude, if I lacked a fantastic support system, and if other negative random circumstances had been a part of my story; my life could have ended at 47 years old.
For the last 14 years, I have experienced my children graduating from college, my daughter getting married, my children gainfully employed, 2 granddaughters, a son-in-law, a new job, caregiving for my mother, my husband’s career success and his retirement, enriching friendships, travel to Italy, personal and professional rewards. These bonus years bring me great joy and have caused me to focus on the pleasure I get from having gray hair, older skin with new markings and texture, aches and pains, a great mind, profound influence in my society, and continued curiosity that motivates me daily to keep learning and applying the knowledge to leave the world better than it was when I came into it.
On the day I returned from the doctor after being diagnosed with cancer, my husband was driving me home after our appointment, an image was imprinted in my brain. We were turning the corner on to our street headed home and there was a couple about to cross the street. They were holding hands and both had perfectly white hair. I pointed to them and said to my husband, “I want to be like them”. I was not finished. I wanted the great privilege of growing older.
Now that I am considered an “older”, I show up with confidence knowing that I as well as my peers have a lot to contribute. I work constantly on changing my own ageist beliefs and I stand up to others (politely) who are using “elder speak” or displaying ageist behaviors. I will show by example and express with my voice that ageism, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-faith behaviors, and negative judgments of any kind are not acceptable and not tolerated.
I have the privilege of these bonus years that brought me to being an “older” and I proudly display the marks of my years.
Judy Rough is on the Executive Team at Age Without Borders, and is the Senior Director at the Society of Certified Senior Advisors is the premier membership organization certifying and educating professionals who serve older adults.