How I celebrate the day I was diagnosed with cancer through writing and blogging.
Carolyn Koncal Breinich
I consider January 25, the day I was diagnosed with cancer, as my second birthday and my cancerversary.
I was only 13 years old when I heard the words: you have cancer. Officially, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.
For the first six years, January 25 was a day of personal reflection, a day filled with memories, my day to celebrate life and thank God for my second chance.
My doctor told me if I had not been diagnosed when I had been, I likely would have gone into a coma and died within three days, more or less. The leukemia cells had already taken over my body, and my bone marrow was 99 percent leukemia cells at the time of my diagnosis. I would never have seen my fourteenth birthday, which I celebrated five days later with my friends.
A hospital isn’t the best place to have a party, but it’s better than not having a birthday at all.
Why I write about my cancerversary
Being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age changes you. I was in the eighth grade when I was diagnosed and finished treatment as a sophomore in high school. I was treated with chemo and cranial radiation for two and a half years. My faith was my coping mechanism, and my hope for a better tomorrow was how I got through each day. These two things have stayed with me my entire life and are a big reason I write my cancerversary emails.
I wrote my first “cancerversary” email in 2001 to celebrate my seventh year of being a childhood cancer survivor.
I just wanted to share the good news with everyone. . . I am alive to celebrate my 7th anniversary of going to the ER and then to Children’s Hospital to be diagnosed…I had not been diagnosed when I had been, I probably would never have seen my 14th birthday. God works in mysterious ways. I am ALIVE!!!!!! 7-year leukemia survivor.
Sharing news and celebrating life
I was about to turn twenty-one, and I felt the need to go out into the world and share my good news. I wanted to celebrate life, God’s plan for me, the mysterious ways in which He works, and most importantly, remind others to celebrate their lives. Email and the internet were becoming more popular, and I had a way to share my good news with a wide range of people who had been with me throughout my journey. Every year since then, I have continued to write a cancerversary email on that day.
Here’s part of my post from 2006:
Well it’s that time of year again, the time where I celebrate my life with all of you. This time of year is always a special time for me, because it allows me to remember all the wonderful things that happened during my cancer experience…
Always remember life is precious. Love life, live life, and enjoy every moment. 12-year leukemia survivor.
Other ways I celebrate, including my book
My cancerversary email is not only part of my celebration. I start the day by going to mass, which my time to thank God for helping me survive. I usually spend the rest of the day reflecting on what I have been through while at the same time finding a fun way to celebrate. I have thrown parties on the milestone years, treated myself to a massage, gone to a fancy restaurant for a nice dinner, or had breakfast with my parents. Last year I planned a trip to Disney World with my family to celebrate my 26th cancerversary and 40th birthday.
This year I not only get to celebrate being a 27-year survivor; I also get to celebrate that 2020 was the year I became an author. For years, those reading my cancerversary emails encouraged me to write a book, knowing my story could help others. Last year, I finally published my book Faith, Hope and Cancer: The Journey of a Childhood Cancer Survivor as a way to share my story with the world and provide hope and inspire others.
Dealing with recent challenges
This year as I think about how my life changed in 1994, I can’t help but compare it to how my life changed in 2020. I see many similarities in how I felt during treatment and how I felt living through a pandemic—isolated, in a world of the unknown—not knowing what the future holds. I couldn’t go to school or see my friends, and I had to wear a mask and be socially distant before being socially distant was a thing. The only place I went for the first six months was to the hospital for treatment. When the world started opening up to me and I could go back to school, I remember the fear of getting sick since my immune system was still recovering. I remember the joy of feeling normal again when I saw my friends.
I was not afraid then, and I am not going to be afraid now. Why? Because I trust God knows what He is doing. I lived cautiously then, and I live cautiously now. I adapted to life then, and I adapted now. Remembering to be hopeful, I believe my life would return to normal.
I believe 2020 was the year of hope. Hope we would get through the day, hope for a better tomorrow, hope our loved ones are safe and healthy, and hope for the day we can see them and hug them. This is the same hope I had 27 years ago.
Love, live and cherish
I believed that God would help me get through cancer treatment, and I trust that God will help me get through this pandemic. Just like cancer taught me to appreciate life, I think the pandemic has done the same for many people. We often forget to slow down, celebrate life, and think about all the blessings we have been given. That’s why I now write about my cancerversary every year.
I hope you take time today to thank God for everything He has given you, and I hope you never forget to love life, live life, and cherish every moment.
To read all of my cancerversary emails and to check out my book, please visit my website.
For more about celebrating your cancerversary, check out this article.
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