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Never Too Late

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I've always been a late bloomer. I sucked my thumb until age five. I played with Barbie dolls until junior high (which, in case you don't know, is way longer than most girls). I was one of the last of my friends to get her period. In fact, I lied for more than a year about having gotten it, I was so embarrassed. I was out of high school before I got boobs.

I didn't have a boyfriend until I was a senior, and was pretty sexually inexperienced going into college (I made up for it later). And speaking of college, I left after the first semester of my freshman year because I was homesick. Homesick. I later went back, but opted to go part-time while working and living at home.

I was a mama's girl for sure.

I always felt a little awkward, a little on the outside. I was never part of the popular crowd. I kept a few close girlfriends, and they were my collective security blanket. I was insecure about going places alone.

I married and divorced young, not taking seriously the institution of marriage or what it truly meant. I married more because all of my friends were doing it, and it seemed like the right thing to do. I think somewhere, deep down, I didn't think "true" love existed. Or, if it did, it certainly wasn't going to happen to me.

I rocked along pretty well, and enjoyed my 20s and 30s for the most part. I hit my stride career-wise, finding something at which I was quite good and with which I felt I could make a difference. I made some great friends, was involved in some long-term relationships. I was never lonely, but something was definitely missing.

Around the time I hit 40, I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that I had become quite the co-dependent, a people pleaser and an approval seeker. I had spent more time worrying about what others might think of me than thinking about what was right for me. So I started the work (and it was work, no doubt about it) of doing some internal housecleaning. Deeeeep cleaning. I did some intensive therapy. I took a good hard look at myself and my past and started the process of forgiving -- others as well as myself. I ended some unhealthy relationships. I did some solo travel. I cleaned out my gills. I got to know me. And, damn, did it feel good.

Then, just when I got comfortable with myself and the idea of being fulfilled on my own, this brilliantly quirky guy entered the picture. I wasn't looking for a love interest. In fact, I had decided that I would be single for at least a year. But into my life he walked. From the first instant, it was like we already knew each other, our exchanges felt so familiar. He was a client, and by the time his case had ended, I knew there was something there. That was almost five years ago.

So here I am now, a virtual newlywed and new mom at age 45. The brilliantly quirky guy and I married two days before my 44th birthday, and had a baby girl later that same year. Two things I never thought would happen. I had long since given up the idea of having a baby, and had vowed never again to marry.

Just shows what happens when you start making plans. Isn't that always the way? As soon as we stop looking, or trying, things start to happen. I think it all comes down to self-acceptance, and making room. Cleaning house. The right thing will come along once you're truly ready. And I was. And oh, what a ride it has been!

In the past year and a half, I've gotten married, had a baby, been diagnosed with Stage 3C widespread gynecologic cancer, fought it, taken a leave from my job of 21 years, and started writing about it all. I feel like I've been pelted with curve balls, but also buried in goodness. Five years ago, I wouldn't have handled these life events with much dignity or grace. I simply wasn't equipped. And despite the curve balls -- or maybe because of them -- these past 18 months have been the best of my life.

And the cancer, which I'm still fighting? I choose to think it's the last vestiges of that housecleaning I started five years ago.

I initially started blogging about my cancer journey as way to avoid talking about it to others. I soon realized that the process was therapeutic for me, and the end product beneficial to others. And opening myself up to the cancer community has been rewarding beyond all expectations. But as many times as I've been approached by others about my cancer experience, I've been approached just as many times by women in their 30s and 40s (and beyond) who say that my story gives them hope.

I will never forget a time early in my treatment when I was sitting at restaurant in all of my shiny bald glory and a pretty blonde woman came up to my table. She said, "You're Joanna Montgomery and I've been following your blog!" I expected her to then comment about a loved one with cancer, but instead she said, "You're my fertility icon! I'm 38 years old and single and I had been thinking it was too late for me, but your story gives me hope!"

I'm embarking on a new career, as a writer, in my mid-40s. One of my best friends just realized a life-long dream (one she had discarded long ago) of becoming a licensed private investigator. I have another friend going back to college to become a lawyer at age 50. I've heard stories of those finding love for the first time at 40 or 50 or 60, even older. We've all taken a leap, and been rewarded.

Now, I'm still learning to love and accept myself -- and this cancer thing (and what it continues to do to my body) is making this particularly challenging. But I'm working at it, every single day, for myself as well as my daughter.

And what I've learned first-hand is that it's never too late. I love Bonnie Raitt, but that "nick of time" stuff is bullshit. It all happens exactly when it's supposed to happen, once we've cleaned out the unhealthy stuff and made room.

Right on time.

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