Milestones and cancer anniversaries can be powerful. This week, I have sat with several women who were struggling with these markers. In two cases, women were completing adjuvant therapy for breast cancer, feeling exhausted and anxious and emotionally depleted, and were surprised and upset by all the people around them who were "celebrating" and pushing them to move on. In another instance, a woman described not sleeping well and feeling generally anxious before she realized that this week is the third anniversary of her bilateral mastectomies. And, finally, a woman described having a near panic attack when she went for her first mammogram after breast cancer, helped only a little by recognizing the reasons of being back at the "scene of the crime" at almost exactly the same week of the year.
It is usually helpful to modify the language. Instead of "celebrate", try "mark" or "honor". If you find yourself feeling especially anxious or distressed, look at a calendar. Our bodies sometimes remember dates before we conciously do so. This is a nice article from CancerNet about all of this:
Each person’s experience with their cancer diagnosis and treatment is individual and can range from painful to joyful.
It’s important to recognize milestones in ways that feel comfortable to you and reflect your personality, values, and taste, remembering that there is no “right way,” or even a single way, to handle milestones.
Talk in advance with family members and friends about how you want to handle a milestone because their experiences of your cancer and the ways in which they want to recognize that date may differ from yours. This may help prevent unnecessary conflict or stress on the milestone day.
For most survivors, the experience of living with cancer is life changing. When you reach certain milestones or the anniversaries of important dates in your cancer care, you may have mixed emotions, some of which can still be painful or upsetting even years later.
It’s important to anticipate these anniversaries and choose how you want to reflect on the changes in your life, both the difficult ones and the positive ones. It can be an opportunity to celebrate your hard work and the fact that you are a cancer survivor. It also may be a time during which you need extra support from your friends, family, or a health professional.
There are various types of milestones that could trigger a mix of emotions, ranging from gratitude and relief to fear of cancer recurrence. These could be the date of your cancer diagnosis, the end of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the anniversary of surgery to treat your cancer, each follow-up visit, or monthly or annual anniversaries of having no signs or symptoms of cancer.
Taking time to prepare yourself for anniversary dates and to honor them in ways that are meaningful to you may help you sort through these emotions and reflect on your experience.