Today is Easter Sunday, a blessed day with very special meaning to many of us. It is the holiday of HOPE and the day we are reminded that nothing is ever so dead that it cannot be resurrected. This truth carries me through many days of sadness, worry and fear.
This year, 2016, Easter Sunday falls on March 27th. March 27th is the day I have celebrated for THIRTY ONE YEARS as my “Cancerversary”. In 1985, at 13 years old, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Just the “C” word, at that time, instilled fear,and my particular case, was unusual for my age. There is plenty I can say about my memories of the time surrounding my diagnosis; my fears and my profound sadness for my parents. I could write volumes about what I learned about nursing, empathy, and survivorship, and I intend to, over time. Every one that knows me well understands the profound footprint cancer has left on my soul- as survivor, the daughter and sister of survivors and the honored observer of surviving patients every day.
Today, however, I want to focus on the “Cancerversary”. For me, I mark my “Cancerversary” as the day I had the seven hour surgery to remove all the cancer that was surgically removable. At age 13, going to New York City for what seemed, at the time, to be major surgery, was a major deal. I was scared. My Mom, sleeping on the floor at my side, was scared and people in my community, including my eighth grade classmates, were praying. “Normal” had quickly and dramatically changed.
To be clear, I don’t live in the past. My point in celebrating my “Cancerversary” is not to continue to draw attention to a thirty one year old memory. In my opinion, a Cancerversary is worthy of celebrating for the same reasons athletes reminisce about a championship or historians mark a battle victory. For anyone who has been touched by cancer, I believe there is value in marking the day where you took the battle to the mat (operating room, chemo chair) and said, “It’s on, Cancer. The line is drawn here.”
When in a fight that one must win, dates and victories are imperative to chronicle.
I remember, vaguely, being wheeled away from my Mom into the elevator going to surgery. My stoic, already battle weary Mom gave me a thumbs up and said, “get rid of this, OK?” More recently, my sister (Cancerversary 9/12/2013) came out of her double mastectomy drowsily demanding, “is it gone?”
Cancer draws a dark and hard line in anyone’s life story, essentially regardless of the statistical prognosis. I would be willing to bet that anyone who has sat across from a doctor and heard the word cancer, for themselves or a loved one, doesn’t see that day as the line between before and after.
As proof, I recently communicated with a college friend whose dear husband, also a college friend, was killed by cancer. I don't want to say lost his battle because he wasn’t a loser and cancer is a murderer. She messaged me saying, “ The 10th marked the 7 year anniversary since CAM’s diagnosis and the day that life changed forever….it’s like the line in the sand and you are forever “before cancer” and “after cancer”. Hard earned wisdom from a beautiful young widow.
Tonight we toasted my “Cancerversary”. At dinner with my family who was there 31 years ago, it was right to celebrate the distance we traveled since this day and the life I have been blessed to live. Always on this day, I say a silent prayer for the doctors and nurses who have long since forgotten my name, but for whose impact I will always remember.
Hallmark acknowledges a lot of holidays and many different relationships. Maybe it’s just me, but I think “cancerversaries” are a thing. If you know someone, love someone, or ARE someone, who has waged war against the cancer beast, and there is a day when cancer got punched back into its nose like the bully it is, celebrate that day. I dream of a day when Al Roker will sit at the Today show desk and wish people twenty, thirty, forty year Cancerversary wishes.
And if anyone reading has a milestone coming up… A heartfelt happy Cancerversary!