My Two Year “Cancerversary”

The beginning of this month marked two years since my breast cancer diagnosis. Coincidently, my diagnosis occurred on October 1st, the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is celebrated in both the United States and Chile with an onslaught of pink ribbons, pink posters, and pink T-shirts. (It´s a good thing that both Jon and I like pink!) This year, I didn´t really know what to do about my cancer milestone since I am now two years out and pretty much living life normally, but since it is a date that I certainly won´t ever forget, it felt strange to let it pass without any mention of it whatsoever. During the News and Feelings section of my resource class, in which I attempt to get to know my pre-teens better, I told them that I was feeling happy today because it has been two years since my cancer diagnosis. After I shared this personal bit of information, my sixth graders seemed rather perplexed as to why someone would want to celebrate something as sad and horrible as cancer. And then, as sixth graders tend to do, they promptly forgot about my news and focused on the new video game they got from their parents the day before and how nervous they were feeling about the Spanish quiz next period. Gotta love 12 year olds! And, honestly, their feelings got me to thinking: what is the point of a cancerversary? And also, what idiot came up with such a cutesy title for something so not cutesy?! (Probably the same one who thought that combining celebrity names such as Brangelina or Bennifer was necessary to help the public know that two famous people are in a relationship.)

I, for one, have mixed feelings about celebrating my cancerversary. On the one hand, celebrating something in October makes it easier for me to reflect on my own experience with the disease by participating in breast cancer awareness events that often happen to take place at this time of year. This year, I gathered a bunch of ladies and together we participated in the Avon Caminata for the Cure: a 2K walk/7K run held along the Rio Mapocho in Santiago. Despite the early hour, it turned out to be a really nice event, with lots of people out and about in pink, running, walking, and celebrating in some way, the thousands of women every day that are newly diagnosed with the disease.

Great friends at the beginning of the walk.
Great friends at the beginning of the walk.
Me with my biggest supporter.  So glad he could come!
Me with my biggest supporter. So glad he could come!
At the beginning of the race
At the beginning of the race
Walkers at Avon event- you can see the runners on the other side of the bridge
Walkers at Avon event- you can see the runners on the other side of the bridge

I, personally, enjoy any reason to celebrate, and I figure being alive two years after such a devastating diagnosis is plenty of reason to celebrate. However, this year I didn´t really want to make a big deal out of it, so Jon and I didn’t go ahead with the big party at our house after the race. For some reason, it just didn´t feel right…. I rarely celebrate my own birthday, so I thought some might find it strange to celebrate the day I was told I had cancer.

Like my sixth graders, many cancer survivors find it morbid to immortalize such a horrible date as the one you learned that you had a deadly disease. In fact, after I did some research I realized that many cancer survivors don´t like to celebrate this milestone at all. To them, they spend most of their life trying to forget about cancer and move on with their lives that to celebrate the diagnosis seems contrary to their current happiness. Some are private people who don´t want anyone to know they had cancer because they don´t want to be treated any differently or discriminated against. And I understand all of that, but at the same time, I figure that if we don´t celebrate the big things in our lives, then, for me, it really cheapens the whole life experience. If I don´t acknowledge that cancer forever changed my life, then I won´t be able to handle the good or bad things that may be to come.

Last week, a young woman named Brittany Maynard, wrote an opinion article that aired on CNN.com, and it reduced me to tears for several consecutive days. I´m sure you might have heard of it: it has received a lot of press, both negative and positive.  This young, beautiful, vibrant, world traveler found out at the age of 29 that she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and has six months left to live. Brittany got married about a year ago and, of course, her article was posted along with these devastatingly beautiful pictures of a happy bride surrounded by other happy friends and family. It was clearly an event of joy and elation: the kind that can only happen when surrounded by those that love you most. After Brittany´s diagnosis, she decided to move to Oregon where they have a death with dignity law that allowed her to obtain a pill that she can take if the pain gets to be too much. She has decided she would rather die on her own terms than slowly and painfully die from a brain tumor that will render her helpless and put her family through the pain of watching her deteriorate in front of their very eyes.   If you are brave enough, you can read the devastating details from the article at the bottom of the page. But I warn you, even thinking about it now is really upsetting for me. I can´t even imagine how difficult it must have been for her and her family to make such an awful decision.

I think the article resonated so much for me because, if the dice had rolled the other way, that could have been me.   Two years ago I came extremely close to being that girl and having to make such an unthinkably horrific decision. But it wasn´t: I was lucky. There was nothing I did to deserve to survive cancer any more than Brittany Maynard did anything to deserve dying of a massive brain tumor. And I feel that I owe it to her, and to all cancer victims, to celebrate my life in any way possible. And if that means having a ridiculous pink cancerversary party on October 1st in order to fete another year of Eli Timms, then I´m all in. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays: they are all an assortment of random dates marked on a calendar. However, they represent a passing of time and should be honored. So, while October 1st might not mean much to others, except for those who were born or married on that day, it does to me. And I guess that´s really the point of a cancerversary.

Brittany Maynard´s Story

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