Turning 38 has been an unexpectedly big thing for me, because for the first time I feel like life really has moved on after cancer. Recovering from cancer isn’t simply an exercise of healing the body, but the mind and the spiritual self as well, and it’s wonderful to finally feel completely healed. 38 also marks the fifth birthday I’ve had since being diagnosed with cancer, so in a way, this birthday represents the first of many 5 year celebrations, and believe me, we will be celebrating this coming year!!
This October has also marked a major milestone for my wife and I. Having been together for 19 years, we've now spent over half of our lives together, and still can't get enough of each other. To have a love that just keeps on growing in the face of all that life has thrown our way, is the greatest blessing one can have in life. That by itself is worth celebrating. So here's what we did to celebrate such wonderful milestones - a snapshot of life at 38, five years out from cancer.
We hit the mountains. Living in suburbia, we've come to love the fresh air and change of scenery that the mountains bring. Shenandoah National Park is only a two hour drive away, and we love all that the mountains have to offer. We toured Skyline Drive, and hiked the 3 mile loop around Hawksbill Mountain just taking it all in. There's no better time to go to SNP than for the fall foliage, and we were blessed with perfect weather and a wonderful time.
After our hike, we decided to crash the world famous Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church, VA, without a reservation, and still in our hiking garb! Because why not? The table behind us all dressed up in formal wear looked a little annoyed by us, but we didn't care, and had a fantastic dinner. It was two hours home from the mountains either way, so why not detour south a bit and treat ourselves?
We hit the beach. Yes, the beach, in the off-season. We try to get down to Virginia Beach at least once per year, but never made it during the summer, and our year just didn’t feel complete without having gone. I proposed to Debbie right on the beach here in 2002, and it felt wonderful to be back at a place that has such a history in our love story. While we were there, I managed to catch up with my old buddy Peter McMahon and his new wife Marnie, and had a nice dinner together.
I climbed a mountain, Old Rag Mountain to be exact! My friend Amit and I had wanted to hike Old Rag Mountain for years, and finally made it happen this year. It was spectacular, and a great personal victory for me as well. In past years I simply wouldn’t have been able to make this hike. My body would have quit on me halfway up the mountain, but years of relentless focus on exercise and pushing myself as hard as I could, finally forced my body to heal to the point that I can now handle the most strenuous and spectacular hike in the entire mid-Atlantic region.
I enjoyed some family time. Funny how after cancer, simple little outings like going to pick apples with your family are always so much fun for me. I love and adore my family like you wouldn’t believe, and my two silly kids never cease to put a smile on my face. And I can't ever miss out on the fall classic of kids jumping into a big pile of leaves! They're growing up so fast, and aren't going to be little like this forever. I enjoy every moment with them, and enjoy capturing so many silly photos like these, so that I can look back on them years from now and relive these moment all over again.
I enjoyed the company of wonderful friends.
Natalie and Mark Way have been the perfect friends and companions for me over the past few years. There was a period of time a few years ago when I was afraid to be left alone, and Debbie couldn't literally be by my side at every moment. Natalie and Mark were the right friends, and the right souls in my life that I needed to meet, at exactly the time I needed to meet them, and had been living right under our noses just a five minute walk down the street all these years!
There's such great chemistry and camaraderie, and so many similar interests between all of us, all of which has led to too many fun outings, foodie adventures, and weekend trips to count, and even a semi-coordinated vacation or two. These friends of mine are not just loved, they’re beloved, and very quickly became like a second family to me back in 2013 when we met. Natalie and I celebrated our birthdays in style at Joe’s Seafood down in DC. Sept 25th and Oct 27th is close enough, right? Who’s counting? :) We had gone last year too, and loved it so much that we went back again.
Raghu Ramappa has been a photography buddy of mine for a few years now, having met through a neighborhood photography social media page that never really got off the ground. But Raghu and I connected personally, and I've very much enjoyed the photos of his beautiful family and all of their adventures together. I was very fortunate to get to know his wife, Anitha Gowda, and I'm still in a state of awe as to how the simplest of connections one can make in life can lead to such wonderful things. Anitha just happened to share a TEDx talk on her social media one day by cancer survivor and author Anita Moorjani, and Moorjani's story has turned out to be such a huge source of spiritual healing and guidance for me in my life after cancer. It's through this most extraordinary of stories, which I hadn't ever heard of anywhere else, that I finally managed to heal my heart after cancer after all these years, and how so many wonderful things have started to happen. And I have Anitha Gowda to thank for that, for having served as this vital bridge between worlds for me.
I remembered that Anitha's birthday was close to mine, but when I realized that she was yet another amazing Scorpio connection in my life (Oct 24th), what more reason do you need to get together and celebrate? I had actually gone to the Hindu Holi festival with them in 2014, which was an incredible experience, but never out for a proper dinner. Time to change that! We finally managed to score a reservation at Rasika in downtown Washington, D.C. (modern Indian Cuisine), and were happy that they were able to come along. My wife and I weren't aware beforehand, but this was actually Raghu and Anitha's very first time leaving their 11 and 7 year old children with friends to go out on a date night!!! I know personally just what a huge deal this is for many Indian couples, so what a great honor to share such an occasion with them. We all had a wonderful time, and had a fantastic dinner together.
I enjoyed a nice weekend and a wonderful dinner with my parents.
For the past few years, I've found it difficult to even be in the same room as my parents. Their crime? They loved their son a little too much, and tried a little too hard to support him, when they just didn't have the right God-given tools for the job, and ended up hurting him instead. Because of this, and how post-traumatic stress can affect a person, my own parents had registered in my sub-conscious mind as a potential threat that I needed to isolate myself from, rather than as people that I loved and who loved me. And I hated every second of this. I fought against it and searched for answers, but just didn't know what the answer was. It was because of my friend Anitha Gowda, who by pure chance happened to introduce the story of Anita Moorjani to someone who was in great need of it, that I finally found a spiritual path forward for myself in life, and learned how to forgive and love those that had hurt me again.
I had a fun weekend with my parents, and just felt completely at ease. The demons of PTSD are terrible, and it's taken me years to unravel the mess that's been inside of me, both towards my parents and a short list of others. We went to Cox Farms to enjoy the Fall Festival in Virginia, and then had a wonderful dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Gaithersburg, MD. What a joy it is to be able to sit on the couch at home next to my parents and chat, and enjoy a nice dinner out together and just feel love.
Things are finally as they should be.
LIFE IS AMAZING. It's funny how so long as you keep your heart and your mind open, that the world has a way of eventually presenting you with whatever it is that you're seeking in life. The right friendships, the right people that you can connect with and love and enjoy, the guidance that you need, or the answers that you had been seeking. So long as your heart and your mind are open, the possibilities are limitless.
The best things in life aren't things, it's the blessings of these amazing people and beautiful souls, that have been a part of my life in both large ways and small. There's so many more that I would have loved to sit down and celebrate with. Time passes so quickly when you're enjoying every moment. I'm not sure what's been more wonderful about turning 38, how I've felt about life in general, or the amazing people I've had to spend it with? I'm a very lucky and blessed man.