"I can't believe you tell people your age," my friend commented.

Hey, I don't mind. Really. In fact, I love my age, because everysingle birthday means more than just presents and chocolate cake.

The day I heard the word "cancer" spoken by my doctor, my life turnedupside down.

"I have a test on Monday," I said foolishly, thinking that the doctorwould postpone surgery so I could ace my humanities test. What I didn'trealize is that I was preparing for the biggest test of my life.

Within hours I discovered that I did have cancer. It had spread to mylymph nodes. I learned at 32 years of age to face mortality. Every timethe doctors entered my room, they walked in with bad news and one morespecialist. One white coat meant cancer. Two white coats meant chemo.Three meant radiation. Four meant detection of another possible tumor.

At one point five doctors stood around my bed. It seemed fittingbecause the statistics dropped to a 10 percent chance of surviving five years.One doctor for each year I might live.

There were a multitude of reasons to stick around-a husband of 12years that I loved a whole lot and three beautiful children that wereclueless to the plight of their mom and dad, but who gave me daily strengthin their innocent love and handmade gifts that hung on the hospital wall.To this day, I still have a crayon picture of me resting in bed, with alarge head and larger lips, with a thermometer sticking out of my mouth.The words, "get well so u can com home" was my mantra.

I'm thankful for cancer in many ways. Does that sound crazy? Iwouldn't wish it on anybody and I don't want to go through it again, but itwas a teacher. It helped me to treasure every single day. It forced me toprioritize my life. Things that were once important seemed foolish. Itpushed me off the hamster wheel this society calls sacred and let me pursuethe desires of my heart, instead of my wallet. It gave me the ability tosee life as fragile, not one day promised. It allowed me to treasure mythree beautiful children, who sometimes brought heartache along with joy asthey grew up, who are all now in college and can now spell beautifully.

When I hit my 5th year of survival, I left my job to write full time.I decided not to write one more word about anything that didn't matter tome. It was a step of faith, but it made perfect sense. Cancer taught menot to let the opportunities of your heart pass you by because we are notpromised "one day" or "someday."

On my 40th birthday, I rode go-carts with 30 of my closest friends tocelebrate. The numbers 4-0 hanging across the wall were a beautiful sight.

I celebrated my 10th year of survival on a boat in the Amazon in therainforest of Brazil. I sat on the top level and watched the sun rise andfrom somewhere so deep inside, I thanked God for the opportunity toexperience life through facing death.

You see, life has become a series of celebrations. Last month, Icelebrated my 13th year of survival and embraced my 44th birthday. Nextmonth, Richard and I will celebrate our 24th anniversary. Leslie, myoldest turned 21 last year. My twins are 20. All young adults now, allrunning after their own dreams, because my bout with cancer taught themtoo.

I look at my friend and answer her question. Do I mind telling myage? Absolutely not. I'll shout it from the rooftops. I'm 44! I'mthankful for all 10 gray hairs (though I will cover them with honey ashbrown and romantic red highlights).

When I look in the mirror and notice the small lines appearing aroundmy mouth and eyes, I don't call them wrinkles. I call them opportunities.

Every line was placed there by a smile that creased my face-anexperience, large or small, that came from living this gift called life.