Marking the Days and Remembering Cancer's Anniversaries

Kim Johnson

From diagnosis to remission, my sister had cancer for nearly three years. Because of that, the cancer dates that mark my calendar are plentiful. I can recall most of them from memory without a second glance. While I was recently going through my old planners, I noticed just how many dates are filled with notations of cancer.

July 9: her original admission date. July 13: induction chemo was given. January 24: discharge from bone marrow transplant.

I have every date in between and all the admissions that would follow, even after she had reached remission. When I reflect back, I have many mixed emotions from these dates. On one hand, it allows for me to see just how much progress has been made and how far we have come. On the other, it is difficult to know that my sister and our family endured so much in those three years.

When one of the bigger milestones comes upon us, I do my best to spend that day with my sister, not to reminisce or even to talk about what was happened on that date. I chose to spend that day with her because I am grateful that she is here despite all the bad that has happened, and I have the choice to spend time with her. No matter how sick she once was, she is no longer in that condition. While nothing can erase the memories that I have, I am also lucky enough to able to make new memories with her now.

Because my family and even our friends experienced cancer so differently than my sister and I did, I am sure that some of these dates mean little, if not nothing, to them. While she was still struggling to gain remission, I would often reflect with her care team about how much changed year to year. A big anniversary is March 3, the day she had a grand mal seizure. I can replay that day moment for moment like it was yesterday. When I pause and speak of that day with others, I am better able to remove myself and see all that was gained that day instead of how hard and emotionally draining that day was.

Personally, I have found the next best way to spend anniversaries of cancer is volunteering and being around others who were affected by cancer. It is a way for me to pass it on – to give back to those still going through cancer because we are no longer in that place. As a nursing student, it is also a way to show gratitude towards those who helped me while I work on gaining my degree so that I am able to help others.

Dates come and go and time passes. It did so before cancer came into our lives. It did so while cancer was here and it continues to do so, even after cancer is now gone. That being said, every now and then I glance at a calendar and take a moment to pause and appreciate all that was and all that is now, is incredibly important.
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