I'm About To Turn 40 And I Can't Wait

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Rachel Garlinghouse/Getty

In five months, I’ll turn 40. The big 4-0. Instead of focusing on any regrets or imploring myself to get into better shape—which are things I guess I’m supposed to be doing—I’m thrilled. Turning 40 seems to be a milestone that I can’t wait to celebrate rather than dread. For me, age isn’t just a number. It’s a milestone to be honored.

Part of my eager anticipation is that over the past fifteen years, I’ve been through medical hell. First, I had a near-death experience that luckily ended with a diagnosis rather than kicking the bucket. Twelve years after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I found lump in my breast. Despite the initial scans looking promising, a biopsy revealed early-stage breast cancer. After a mastectomy and lots of therapy, I was finally gaining some confidence when I small knot in my chest wall turned out to be a breast cancer recurrence.

I’ve just wrapped up twelve rounds of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, and now I’m in radiation therapy. To say this past year has been a doozy is an understatement. However, I am very, very thankful to be alive and healing from breast cancer. My experiences have taught me that turning 40 isn’t so bad when you realize you could have never turned 40 at all.

I also feel like as I get older, I just have so much more confidence. I’m a person who knows what I want. Right, wrong, or indifferent, I’m going for it to see what happens. I make decisions more easily, usually going with my gut or intuition (whatever you want to call it). Oh, and I wear what I want, when I want. I’m also never on-trend, and I’m OK with that. My favorite color is grey and over half my wardrobe is some shade of charcoal. I don’t care what’s trending.

I don’t weigh myself, instead understanding that how I feel is much more important than the number on the scale. I also don’t lean into my mirror to investigate every blemish, wrinkle, or scar. I figured my stretch marks, mastectomy scars, and evolving body should be appreciated rather than loathed. I mean, it’s up to me what I tell myself about my body, so why not speak some love into it?

Anyone else decided to stop seeking the approval from others or permission to live our own lives? Easing toward 40 has made me realize that I have one life, and it’s up to me to make it the life I want. If others don’t like my choices, that sounds like they are the problem, doesn’t it? I don’t need them to sign any permission slips for me, either. We each have enough going on in our lives that the choices of others, as long as they aren’t causing harm, are none of our business or concern. It feels really great to RSVP a resounding “no” to anyone’s criticism of me and my life.

I also have my values and passions, and I stick to them. I value women and their health, and I spend a lot of my energy helping women advocate for themselves in medical situations. I also issue reminders to do self-breast exams and schedule mammograms. If I worried what others would think, I wouldn’t be talking about boobs—and breast health—so much. Luckily, I don’t crave a stamp of approval from anyone, and certainly not any pearl-clutchers. My attitude is, if someone doesn’t like what they see in me, don’t look.

I can also feel out BS so much better. I don’t put up with petty, and I’m willing to call out racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of prejudice. I know my kids are always listening and learning, and I want them to see a parent who doesn’t have a problem telling someone they are outright wrong. I want my kids to stand up for others, to be kind but not doormats, and to not be afraid to challenge the status quo.

Each year, I’ve also become a more loyal friend, while also learning that if a friendship isn’t working for you, let it go. Oh, and these friendship breakups, they don’t have to be dramatic at all. It’s perfectly fine to just move forward without a grand exit. Not all then-friends are now-friends or forever friends. I know what I want and need in a friendship, and I also know what I can contribute. If a relationship is draining me in anyway, no thanks. I don’t have the time or energy.

Speaking of relationships, my husband and I are an old married couple, and I love it. I’m thriving on the normalcy, predictably, and security of our marriage. We speak more honestly, but we also understand that embracing each other—idiosyncrasies included—is peaceful.

I read more nonfiction than fiction these days, relishing in learning more about myself. For example, do you know your enneagram? It’s fascinating stuff! I’ve discovered that I am how I am, and there are advantages to being decisive and straight-forward. I’m also learning to change in areas I want to, such as becoming more vulnerable and less shame-filled (ahem, Brene Brown) and deal with my longstanding struggles with anxiety. I’m perfectly willing and motivated to work on myself.

Stepping into myself has made me realize that turning 40 is exciting, not dreadful. If I’ve come far over the past ten years, despite (or maybe because of?) the challenges I have faced, what exciting things await me in the next ten years? Only time—precious time—will tell.