The Cancerversary That Wasn’t

Posted on: December 11th, 2013 by
17

In Cancerland, we are hit by cancerversaries – diagnosis and prognosis anniversaries, treatment dates, surgery dates. The list goes on and on.

On December 1, 2006, I had my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with a DIEP flap reconstruction. The procedure was a nightmare, perpetuated by my torment in ICU and long recovery. Every year since then, I celebrated this one of many cancerversaries by wallowing in solemnity and flashbacks. Some years, all I could do was curl into a ball on December 1 and cry.

This December 1 I did something even more extreme.

I forgot.

I mean completely forgot all about my surgery.

Despite my vow to never forget this date, it slipped away from me. All thoughts of cancer stayed away.

For once, I felt like a civilian, not a war veteran.

When I realized, just recently, that I forgot about this life-altering date, I initially felt disturbed.

I wanted to remember.

I needed to remember – but why?

After some soul-searching, I realized why I was so disturbed by forgetting this date:

I’m afraid of forgetting cancer. If I forget one cancerversary, I’m sure to forget others. I don’t want to forget cancer. And I always need to remember such milestone dates, I reason, because they reaffirm my appreciation of life and keep me in touch with how I and so many others have suffered.

I’m afraid of complacency – and another unwelcome surprise. Before that little cancer incident, I was in excellent shape and passed all my physicals with flying colors. Understandably, I was complacent and brazenly confident in my physical health. I impressed all my doctors. But when cancer reared its ugly head, I was completely caught off guard. I don’t ever want to take my health for granted. And I don’t want any more bad medical surprises.

Yet, despite these fears, a huge part of me is happy I forgot this date. I’ve realized that, perhaps, forgetting this cancerversary is one step toward emotional healing. Maybe next year I will remember the date, maybe I won’t. But I rest assured: I will never forget cancer, even if I forget key dates. All I need to do is look at my scars.

Cancer doesn’t define me, but cancer sure changed me. It’s become an integral part of my identity, but only one aspect of me. Not remembering a cancerversary taught me that I could forget a key date in my cancer history and still survive emotionally.

Have you ever forgotten a cancerversary?

Do you tend to remember most/all of your cancerversaries?

Please feel free to share your experiences. I want to hear about them.


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17 Responses to The Cancerversary That Wasn’t

  1. Kathi had this to say about that:

    I think it’s great when we can ‘forget’ a date. I’ve done it. Had to look up the date of my diagnosis this past year & the year before. Remembered it was July, but not the date. Not that we ever really forget — cancer is always hovering in the background. But isn’t it wonderful to experience even a moment when it’s not in the foreground? Congrats on that, dear Beth. xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Kathi,

      I agree that it’s wonderful to “forget” a date. It’s liberating in so many ways. I’m glad to hear you’ve forgotten dates. It is wonderful to see cancer in the background sometimes. My diagnosis date also eludes me. It was in January, but I’m not sure when.

  2. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    I think this is a really important post. I’m not sure what it means that you forgot the date. It might not even mean anything other than you were busy with other thoughts and things on that day this year. Or it could be a really important step in your emotional healing. Remembering or forgetting dates doesn’t mean we forget cancer. Who could? So far, I remember most of my “cancer dates”, but not all of them… Between my mom’s dates and my own, there are a lot of them. For me remembering is validating and healing. For some people “forgetting” them has the same effect. The main thing is you ARE indeed surviving emotionally. And that’s what really matters. Nice post. Sorry to ramble a bit…

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thank you for your supportive comment. Forgetting the date could’ve definitely meant I was preoccupied with other stuff. And you are so right: who could ever forget cancer? I’m so sorry you have so many hard dates — between your mom’s and yours. That must be so tough. Yes, we are definitely surviving emotionally. Sometimes it’s really hard, but there we are….still going on.

  3. lopsided blogger had this to say about that:

    Great post–I’ve gone through the same emotional roller coaster over dates, and there really are a lot of them once you get into this thing, marking an end (you hope) to some huge thing you never dreamed you’d have to do. But we did.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Lopsided Blogger:

      Thanks much for your comment! Yes, it is such an emotional roller coaster, grappling with dates and such. Yes, we did survive thus far, and all we can do is go forward.

  4. Kimberly had this to say about that:

    Yes. Yes I have. And I blogged about it too lol! I just hope it means that we’re doing much better. I’ve had a heck of a time emotionally.

    http://lunatechchick.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-forgot-and-its-awesome.html

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Kimberly,

      Yes, I’ve also had a difficult time emotionally. I read your post and found it was very good. I left a comment!

      • Kimberly had this to say about that:

        Ooooh, cool! Thanks so much! I always get excited when other bloggers check out mine & comment & stuff. I commented back. I always comment back to each & every single comment on any post. I still have the emotional baggage from it. I’m thinking I always will. Welcome to the “New Normal” I guess. xx

        • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

          And now it’s my turn to be thrilled! Thanks for leaving another comment on my post. Emotional baggage never seems to go away; it’s the same for me.

  5. Facing Cancer Together had this to say about that:

    The mixed feelings sound so understandable. I’ve have them as well, like daily :) While there can be a blessing in forgetting, it is a strange feeling after such a big event. Of course, forgetting the date in no way relates to forgetting what happened. But still, it is good to hear this particularly anniversary passed with less suffering. ~Catherine

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thank you, Catherine. Yes, it sounds like it is quite common to have such mixed feelings. I can understand having them daily, too. I do feel it’s a mixed blessing, but like you say, forgetting a cancerversary does not mean one forgets cancer.

      Thank you for your comment.

  6. Heidi Bright, MDiv had this to say about that:

    Fear of complacency works really well for me. Anytime I think about the past, I feel driven to do whatever it takes to prevent a recurrence.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Heidi, I totally get it: being complacent means we are more likely to be caught off guard. It sounds like you are very proactive. Good for you!

  7. Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) had this to say about that:

    Although you are writing about cancer, your post has echoes for me on what I have been writing about grief. I attempted to ask the question, how long does grief last? and suggested that it lasts until the day comes when we realize with a jolt that we have gone an hour or a day without the thought of our loved one being the first time on our mind. Experiencing cancer is to experience grief. We grieve for the loss of a breast, our confidence, the person we once were, changed relationships. I think the fact that you did forget is a healthy sign that you are moving on with your life. You will never forget cancer, but it has become more of a rough patch in the fabric of the new life you are now weaving for yourself.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Marie, thank you for your insightful comment. I agree that cancer is about grief, and I can see how this post connects with your grief posts. I do think forgetting the cancerversary date is significant in my emotional healing. You said it all so beautifully, “it has become more of a rough patch in the fabric of the new life you are now weaving for yourself.”

      Thanks so much, Marie!

  8. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

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