Celebrating a Cancerversary
What is a cancerversary? How do cancer survivors mark this occasion and find gratitude and live in hope?
By Chris Lawrence
While perhaps not a well-known term to outsiders, cancerversary has been adopted as a common word within the cancer community.
A cancerversary commemorates a significant day of a person’s cancer journey, including when a person was diagnosed, achieved remission, had surgery, finished treatment, or some other significant milestone. The term signifies whatever event a survivor chooses to celebrate on their journey, and they often do so annually.
“The idea of cancerversary is personal,” says Carolyn Koncal Breinich, a 27-year survivor of childhood leukemia. “It is whatever day a survivor finds meaningful to them in relation to their cancer.”
Carolyn celebrates her cancerversary on the day she was diagnosed through writing on her blog every year.
The ways cancer survivors celebrate are as varied as the people who celebrate them. To see some more examples, skip to the end of this article.
Besides showing you some examples of cancerversaries, this article will also reveal more about why people celebrate, along with how you can celebrate in such a way that helps you live in hope.
Why we celebrate
At Hope Has Arrived, we believe that marking a significant day on your cancer journey can help you walk in hope, as these milestone moments help a person honor their story, practice gratitude and focus on the positive.
To some the term “celebrate” might feel too strong. Indeed, for some parts of your journey the only appropriate response may be to grieve. For more on this topic, see grieving and lamenting (coming soon).
While keeping the proper perspective, here is more about why we think it is important to celebrate: remembering a specific day helps many cancer survivors acknowledge the experiences they have been through, as well as mark the passage of another year. And in a way, it helps them experience gratitude for the life they have, helping understand that every day is a gift.
There is something about facing one’s own mortality that can brings a change in perspective, says Wilma DeRidder, a 10-year survivor of Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
“For me, life after cancer has been different,” says Wilma. “I previously saw my life as a gift, but there is something about facing your own death that wakes you up to it even more and helps you savor those blessings.”
In 2008, Wilma faced a challenging diagnosis: Acute Myeloid Leukemia. At that point, doctors only gave her a slim chance of survival.
Yet, more than a decade later, she continues to be in remission and lives each day with a profound sense of gratitude.
To hear more about Wilma’s journey, you can read her Story of Hope.
More about gratitude
Especially after you have faced something potentially life-threatening like cancer, you are less likely to take your life for granted.
As I mentioned in other articles, gratitude is an important part of living in hope.
Entitlement and petty grievances often melt away in the sunshine of thankfulness. Cancer survivors experience a shift in thinking and see life, even with all its thistles and thorns, revealed as what it is: a gift.
This is why it is important to celebrate cancerversaries. We use these occasions to honor the difficult path we have walked, be thankful for the present moment and to affirm the hope we want for the future.
The experience can provide a “summit” experience for those who celebrate them.
It’s similar to some of the reasons why people enjoy climbing mountains. Ascending requires a lot of effort and perseverance and time, but when you finally reach the top, you have the opportunity to sit down, take a rest and especially to survey the view around you and look back on from whence you came, whatever difficulties or triumphs it contained.
Cancerversaries and hope
It is a very personal decision on how or when (or if) you choose to celebrate a cancerversary.
I recommend that as you think through what you want to celebrate, keep hope as your focus. In other words, how can celebrating this part of your journey help you honor your story, be thankful for today and give you anticipation for good in the future?
Many people’s journeys with cancer have, no doubt, included some very dark and difficult parts. Mine did. Celebrating doesn’t mean that you pretend those didn’t happen, or that there may not be difficult days ahead. But marking today plants a flag saying, another year has gone by and I’m still here and I’m grateful for that. And as long as I have breath in my lungs, I want to cling to hope, the desire for better days ahead, even if that seems remote or unlikely.
It’s ok to acknowledge that you need hope, strength and peace for your future. As you know, everybody needs those three virtues, but people facing cancer are more atune to that fact.
No matter what you have faced or will face, honoring what you have been through will no doubt increase your joy and gratitude in the moment.
Not defined by cancer
Celebrating these dates does not reinforce that cancer is your identity, but simply acknowledges that cancer is part of your story.
As I often say, “Cancer is part of my story, but it is certainly not the whole story.”
I lived a lot of life before cancer, and God willing, I will live a lot after, too. And no matter where my journey takes me, nothing can take away who I am.
The same is true for you. Cancer doesn’t have to define you.
A note of caution
Sometimes the approaching a significant date on your cancer journey can surface some surprising emotions.
This happened to Bonnie Annis, a breast cancer survivor, as she approached the five year anniversary of being cancer free.
“I didn’t expect myself to be on the verge of tears every day as the barrage of memories from four years ago began to resurface,” she wrote in “What’s the Big Deal About Celebrating a Cancerversary.”
The day forced her to think through some of the past experiences of her journey. Still her experience proved a positive, and she wishes it for others, too.
“Whether this is your first opportunity to celebrate a cancerversary or whether you’ve celebrated many, please keep looking forward to those wonderful milestones. And never let anyone admonish you for making it a big deal — because it is a big deal and those of us who’ve been there will be celebrating right along with you.”
Some ideas for celebrating
Here are a few idea about celebrating your cancerversary:
- Write about your experience in a journal or blog
- Give to your favorite cancer charity or other non profit organization
- Post on social media
- Do something you love
- Get a tattoo (other than one from radiation :))
- Reconnect with a friend you lost touch with
- Do something athletic…like running, biking or walking
- Plan a vacation
- Go to your favorite restaurant (or get carryout)
- Throw a party—big or small
- Encourage another survivor: bring them a meal or send them a text
- Read your favorite book or watch your favorite movie
- Plant a tree or a flower
- Watch a sunrise or sunset (or both in the same day)
Questions to ponder about your cancerversary
When considering how to celebrate your cancerversary, think through your individual story. Consider these questions:
-What would you like to do to celebrate or remember about what you have gone through?
-Is there something that you are especially proud of? Like finishing treatment or some aspect of your recovery? Cancer is not always so clear cut, so even if you haven’t achieved remission or NED, there is plenty to celebrate.
-Is there something specific you want to do every year you celebrate? Or do you want to mix it up?
You can always celebrate another year of life, or honor how far you have already come on your journey.
Today is a great day to be thankful for the life you have, to honor your story and to live in hope.
Inspiration from others…
Wilma gets together with her friends and family (in person or virtually) for the anniversary of her stem cell transplant…which she received from her sister.
Kendra, a yoga instructor did a handstand on her one year anniversary.
Indeed, how you celebrate can and will look unique to you!
However you choose to celebrate, I wish you a happy and hopeful cancerversary. May it be fulfilling, joyful and meaningful for those you choose to celebrate with.
And especially, may it help give you hope for today and hope for the future.
Stories from others…
How I celebrate the day I was diagnosed with cancer through writing and blogging.
Why the Founder of Hope Has Arrived celebrated his first cancerversary from incurable cancer by climbing a sheer rock spire.
By Chris Lawrence
Note: We are not doctors and we cannot answer your medical questions. However, we welcome your questions about finding hope and knowing God.