Whether it’s the day you had surgery to remove a tumor or the moment you found out your scan was clear, celebrating a momentous day in your cancer journey can help you commemorate and heal.
“For my husband, who is a cancer survivor, we celebrate the day he had surgery to remove the cancer,” says Cynthia Ulreich, an oncology nurse practitioner at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. “For others, it could be the day the doctors say, ‘we can’t find any more cancer.’ It could be the day you finish chemo. It’s individual to each patient, but it’s always a red-letter day that sticks out in your mind.”
Emotionally Recovering From Cancer
Healing from cancer isn’t just a physical journey. Emotionally, it can take you a while to feel like you’ve recovered, even after you are cancer free. Honoring your cancerversary can help you reflect upon this difficult experience.
“For my husband, who is a cancer survivor, we celebrate the day he had surgery to remove the cancer,” says Cynthia Ulreich, an oncology nurse practitioner at Henry Ford Cancer. “It’s a fight for your life. While you have this joy that the war is over, you might have also mixed emotions, processing what you just went through.”
Loved ones can also benefit from celebrating your cancerversary. “I celebrate because I got to keep my husband,” Ulreich says. “But also, throughout his cancer journey, there was so much of a struggle going on in his head and heart, and there was no way I could understand. When the doctors said the cancer was gone, I just sat down and cried. That I could understand.”
Emotions around your cancerversary can change over time, from relief and joy to ambivalence and fear of recurrence. “Every patient goes through the stages of grief, and the pain dulls with time, but there’s always that degree of anxiety of whether it’s going to come back, or what’s going to happen in the future,” says Ulreich.
How You Can Celebrate Your Cancerversary
Ulreich takes her husband to his favorite restaurant each year to celebrate his cancerversary. (They call it “cure day.”) But how each person celebrates is up to them.
“I have a patient who had three brain tumors and had to wear a radiation mask when she had radiation to her brain, so every year she decorates her mask with different flowers,” says Ulreich. “She looks at that mask as something that helped save her life. She’s probably 15 years off from cancer now, but she celebrates by decorating it and embracing the mask.”
You can also celebrate with close friends and family. Or you might want to volunteer your time to those with cancer. Or plan a weekend getaway. Celebrating your cancerversary can be a joyful event, but it can also be a quiet, introspective one.
“Some patients keep journals during their cancer journey, and on their cancerversary, they read through them and tear up,” says Ulreich. “Every person has their own way of celebrating. And while I am all for a big celebration, for some people, they may not want to do that. For them, they commemorate their day by having the luxury of forgetting.”
Learn more about Henry Ford Cancer Survivorship Clinic.
Cynthia Ulreich is an advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner who works with cancer patients at Henry Ford Cancer - Detroit.