Recently, I was asked if I did anything to celebrate or otherwise acknowledge significant dates in my cancer journey — the date of diagnosis, the date I completed treatment, the date I was officially declared to be in remission. Other survivors I’ve talked to do — they talk about their “cancerversary”, the day they were diagnosed, their “rebirthday”, the day they completed treatment or were told they were officially in remission, and things like that; one person I know is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the stem cell transplant that saved his life, after multiple other lines of treatment failed. Other people in my on-line support group do the same thing: they commemorate specific dates in their cancer diagnosis and treatment, in ways that have never really occurred to me to do.
I get it. I really, truly get it. For many people, dates are important. Milestones are key indicators of progress. But I don’t celebrate these dates in my life. I note them, certainly, but I haven’t really done anything with them, not the way other people I talk to do something momentous, or at least celebratory.
Maybe it’s because follicular lymphoma is considered chronic and incurable; there’s that niggling fear that if I celebrate anything related to remission, I’ll remind the lymphoma that it’s still there, and it will come out and say “Hi” in some fashion.
Maybe it’s because I was diagnosed quickly, within a few weeks of first experiencing symptoms, when so many others went months or even years before a doctor finally determined the cause of their symptoms. So many people I’ve talked to were so frustrated by their symptoms, so many had their symptoms dismissed, that being diagnosed, even with cancer, was a relief — it was proof that it wasn’t all in their heads.
Maybe it’s because I was receiving maintenance immunotherapy treatments for a year after completing chemo plus immunotherapy, so that even though I was NED (No Evidence of Disease — the “official” term used these days in place of remission), I wasn’t done with treatment, and so the date wasn’t as clear to me as it is to others.
Maybe it’s because I’d rather look to the future than the past; at 57, I don’t really celebrate birthdays either and it’s entirely possible that this is similar.
I do know that I was very happy when I reached the two-year mark without relapsing; the risk of relapse drops off after two years, as does the risk that follicular lymphoma will transform into a more aggressive form of blood cancer. My three-year scan is in January, and hopefully it will remain clear. If — or rather when, I’d much rather think about when – I reach five years, maybe then I’ll do something significant. Or maybe I won’t. But I do sincerely hope that I’ll reach five years cancer-free, and have to worry about what, if anything, I’ll do to celebrate.
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