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 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.
Tags: bilateral mastectomy, cancer anniversary, cancerversary, DIEP, healing after cancer