A 50th birthday invitation

My carer training – two carers working alongside my nurse from 10:30 to 2:30 each weekday – has so far been rostered through to 2 May, my 50th birthday (otherwise known in Australia as Happy Bowelcancerscreeningkitday). Given the skills needed to transfer me, look after my trachie and vent, communicate, deal with emergencies etc, I’m anticipating that an additional fortnight or three of training will be needed (though 6 months in ICU on my birthday would be a mathematically neat time to go home).

I’ve always been a fan of birthdays as a celebration of the accumulation of years. Our rambunctious childhood birthday parties always involved blowing out the right number of candles on the cake. When I notched up a quarter century my work with ABC audience research meant that I noticed my demographic shift from the compact 18-24 years to expansive 25-39 years categories employed in radio ratings. Six years later I observed another shift, as (mostly older) colleagues sharing my birthday cake suddenly no longer asked my age: I was a bit affronted by their politeness with its implicit assumption that I wouldn’t be comfortable revealing my post-thirty age (that birthday’s celebration also included a beautiful rainy evening climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, during which lovely friend Penny and I inexplicably donned terrible Yorkshire/Scottish accents along with our grey overalls, and Densil may have pretended not to know us).

For my 35th birthday I had the inspired idea of swimming 100 metres for each year of my life. A small group of us swam in the refreshing Victoria Park Pool on a sunny autumn afternoon (such a glorious feeling!). As I accumulated each pair of laps I remembered something of that year of my life. The 3.5 km swim thus held my 35 years, as well as being a pleasurable experience that took time and effort and bodily strength in itself, a real celebration of aging. I continued this tradition through the rest of my 30s, sometimes opting for the indoor university pool where we normally trained, and delaying my 3.7 km until I was ready to spend that much time in the water away from my baby, who’d been expected the day before my birthday but arrived a month earlier.

For my 40th a group of us swam in the buoyantly salty water of North Sydney Pool, where a turn of your head to breathe might be rewarded with a magical glimpse of the imposing Harbour Bridge or the faint drifting sound of happy screams from nearby Luna Park. My 4 km was punctuated by cuddles with now three-year-old Kimi and pool-end chats with Densil and fellow swimmers. For some laps, most notably the last few symbolising our birth day and Kimi’s lifetime, I swam with her – breaststroke with her on my back, arms clamped (too) tightly round my neck; me on my back holding her hands, both (or one) of us kicking; short bursts of tandem dog paddle. As we celebrated our intertwined lives I delighted in my capacity to carry her and keep her head above water.

As I thought ahead to future milestone birthdays I acknowledged that at some point this tradition that demands increasing distance of my aging body might prove unsustainable, but I thought that would be decades away. I had, after all, experienced how Just. Keeping. Going. could get me to 10 km. I had no reason to doubt that my 50th could be celebrated with a swim. I did manage 4.3 km three years later but it was a huge effort to lift my aching arms forward, to pull them through the water, to keep my tired, cramping legs kicking. I berated myself for this loss of fitness but found in coming months that I struggled even to manage a single kilometre. My body was beginning to fail me.

After my MND diagnosis I kept immersing myself in water as long as I could: a Herculean 100 m swim; floating prone over the coral and fish of the Great Barrier Reef then hauled back onto the boat by my strong-armed family; another, final, glorious ocean-float with sisters and our families – Kimi by now able to keep herself aloft – thanks to the aquatic wheelchair at Watson’s Bay Baths; hydrotherapy, with friends pulling on my swimmers and wheeling me in and out of the pool. For two years there was something. But by my 46th birthday I had to be content with being showered; for the last 5 1/2 months twice a week (on a good week) in the piss-weak ICU shower.

I miss swimming, miss my strong arms and legs, miss being able to move, to float, to turn my head, to breathe. Damn I miss it! But I haven’t missed birthdays. I turned 44. And 45. And 46. And 47. And 48. And 49. And on the 2nd of May, I will turn 50. I think of friends who haven’t been so lucky, who – like me – have been carried by beautiful family, friends, carers, health professionals, MND associations, but didn’t get to 50.

I am hoping that the days around my birthday will include hospital visits (scheduled around carer training), and there might be something more after I am home. But I would like to invite you to help me celebrate my 50th birthday in lieu of my 5 km swim.

I invite you to enjoy doing 50 of something in April or May. If swimming’s your thing, swim: 50 x 100m, 50 laps, 50m. Or something else that is your thing. Bake 50 biscuits. Eat 50 biscuits. Snap 50 photos. Walk 50 km. Plant 50 seeds. Tell 50 jokes. Do 50 sit-ups. Persuade 50 voters. Play 50 notes. Pray 50 prayers. Twirl 50 pirouettes. Expel 50 expletives. Catch 50 winks. Draw 50 lines. Give 50 hugs. Breathe 50 breaths.

Please, let me/us know about your 50: what you have done, and, if you like, something about how it felt or what it meant.

And if birthdays make you want to spend money, consider a donation to the MND/ALS cause. Options close to me include:

    Or your personal favourite. Thanks!

26 thoughts on “A 50th birthday invitation

  1. Love love love! Sending you fifty hearts and donning my thinking cap as to how we as a family can contribute by May 2

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy Birthday, Kirsty, for the 2nd May! Thanks for the invitation. In your honour I did a 50 km bicycle ride this morning in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. A lovely day for it, though it was hard work after not doing much cycling over Easter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I will plant 50 Sweet Pea seeds for you and a donation to MND Research in a hope for a cure in the future. Our wonderful son-in-law went home to Heaven in 2017 after 9 years since diagnosis with MND. He had a strong faith and left such a legacy for his family and friends. He celebrated his 50th birthday in Bali with family and was taken home when he was 54 year old. Thank you for the person you are. Sending our love. Val and Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thinking cap on re doing 50 of something. For starters, I’ll act on your blog inspiring me to donate 50 gold coins. Love your approach… and those 50 flowers on Margaret Cassidy’s fb page!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I will show my children 50 photos of their grandmother who passed away from MND to keep her memory alive and to keep reminding us that we need to keep raising awareness of MND. Happy 50th birthday to you Kirsten xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I will do 50 maths problems with my teenage daughter. I am inspired by your patience about 35 years ago, when you helped me with crystal clear explanations of algebra and trig ! Xox

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Happy happy birthday Kirsten. I turned 70 this year. (Ugh). I also joined a great gym. I’m doing 50 sit ups with a smile on my face in your honour.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Happy Birthday for yesterday Kirsten. I’m trying very hard to get 50+ Retweets on Twitter to celebrate your birthday and raise awareness of MND – which is harder on social media when I first started using it. Hopefully my latest request to some influencers in my network will help.


    Liked by 1 person

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