When I think of cancer “anniversaries” there is only one date that comes to mind. April 15, 2009 – the day of my mastectomy.
From September 2008 to February 2009, all I remember is a whirlwind of appointments, tests, biopsies, phone calls, internet searches, crying jags and, finally, a diagnosis. You would think I could remember that date, but I don’t. I think I had been through too much for too long and simply didn’t have the brain power to commit the date to memory.
Finally, there was certainty, but many new questions. I was definitely going to lose my breast to a Stage 0 cancer I hadn’t even been sure qualified me as a cancer patient. Now I had weeks to count down the days and contemplate the ramifications:
I remember fear and a feeling of being in the Twilight Zone. How could this actually be happening? Who are these many, many people swarming all around me? How am I going to feel, look, function – survive – when I wake up?
One year later, I decided I needed to celebrate my anniversary and asked my husband out to lunch. Mind you, I didn’t want to celebrate the actual day. No, I was celebrating the fact that I had made it to April 15, 2010. I had managed to create distance from 2009, which included another surgery in September and major emotional issues. It was a major accomplishment that deserved to be celebrated.
That’s how going out to lunch with my husband on April 15th became a tradition. Year two we went out again and I considered it “a very good day:”
It is a tremendous gift to know yourself and what you are capable of doing. Once you know it, you can put that faith in your pocket where it will safely stay in case you ever need it again. … I’ll be celebrating my survival, healing and the surprising gifts of cancer.
Year three was reflective and definitely not celebratory. We went out to lunch again, but I was focused on the emotions and fears of the actual day. On a positive note, I did realize how mindfulness and a few amazing people pulled me through.
How do I feel today? I’m not really sure. Initially, I tried to ignore the day and didn’t mention lunch to my husband. For the first time, I felt silly bringing it up – like I should be past all that by now. As I wrestled with that feeling, I slowly realized I was on a survivor’s guilt trip. If I wanted to go to lunch, I was entitled and shouldn’t try to talk myself out of it.
After all that, my husband said he had remembered our tradition, but wasn’t able to work out his schedule. Rather than disappointing me, he validated the importance of our tradition to both of us.
I don’t know how I’ll feel next week when we go out to lunch. Even four years later, it’s clear to me that I’m still dealing with a moving target. I shed some tears as I read my earlier cancer anniversary blog posts, but posting to my Facebook page drew many supportive responses. We had an excellent discussion and, once again, the nurturing of other survivors who “get it” teaches me the most important lesson I’ve learned over the last four years, “I am not alone!”
Survival > Existence,