On a cold, dreary December day seven years ago, I was having coffee with my dear friend Twinkie Lyman, at our local Starbucks. Letting out a long and disillusioned sigh, I began to cry the blues regarding my upcoming 50th birthday. Menopause had crept in years earlier, but I felt my youth truly slithering away with the onset of this momentous age.

It was becoming harder and harder to look at the image in the mirror. Where there was once smooth skin, fine lines, along with a few deep crevices, crisscrossed my face. Applying morning makeup had become an artistic dilemma.

In 2003, my four children were leaving the nest one-by-one. Birthdays were just another reminder of life slipping through my fingers. Twinkie sat across the table listening patiently. When I was finally finished lamenting, she smiled gently and exclaimed, “I love my birthday!”

Astonished, I wondered how this was possible? Every woman I knew was in simpatico with my feelings on aging. Gravity was pulling at our skin, tummies were beginning to soften and pooch over the beltline, and covering the gray in our hair was a tedious monthly chore. What was her secret?

“Don’t you find it sad that our youth is decaying?” I inquired.

Her big, beautiful blue eyes watered. Folding her napkin in her hands, she took a deep breath and revealed, “Four years ago I had breast cancer. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have another birthday.” Taking my hand, smiling brightly, she added, “With each one, I’m grateful I’ve had another year to live.”

Horrified and ashamed, my lower lip dropped as I began to apologize for my selfish vanity. “I never knew,” I whispered. “I’m so glad you survived.”

Feeling extremely shallow, I began to take stock of my life. I’ve known many people who dealt with this deadly disease. My mother was a survivor thirty years ago, but I never had a close friend my age experience the battle.

We all know that tomorrow isn’t promised. Yet we still get caught up in the superficial and mundane. I had allowed my inflated ego and false pride overshadow what is real and true before, but that day became a life altering wake-up call.

Now, when December 31st rolls around, I make merry! I give praise for another wonderful year. I rejoice over the wrinkles on my face, the sag in my belly. And that over-due dye job on my lifeless roots, I let proudly blow in the wind for I’ve been blessed with another year and a life well lived.