A native New Yorker, Shira Kallus Zwebner is a communications consultant and writer living with her husband and three children in Jerusalem, Israel. Diagnosed in 2017 with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, she's fighting her cancer battle and blogging about the journey at hipstermomblog.com
Don't let anyone else decide how you choose to celebrate any post-cancer milestones.
"Why would you celebrate being one-year cancer-free with pizza and cake?"
I felt her judgment just oozing through the phone and was caught speechless. We were discussing the tailspin my one-year “cancerversary” sent me into and how overwhelmed I was to have celebrated such a milestone when the odds were so stacked against me. I stammered in response and searched for excuses.
"Well, the 7k walk that I did and the visit to the Kotel (Wailing Wall in Jerusalem) to pray and give thanks to G-d were all part of my one-year cancerversary celebration. The pizza and cake were really our dinner celebration for the kids," I said.
My friend had to go and so we ended our conversation, but I was just stunned. Could she be so Beachbody and Rise Up focused that she can't see beyond protein shakes, daily workouts and her personal health and wellness journey? Was it so wrong for a cancer survivor to celebrate one year of being cancer-free with a pizza-and-cake-party for her family? Is there no longer any room in my life for sugar and high-calorie treats? Even Shaun T — fitness trainer, fitness motivator, businessman, television personality and choreographer – admits he indulges once in a while!
Am I really setting such a bad example for my kids if we choose to celebrate being cancer-free with a pizza party??
It was a good thing I didn't tell my friend that the morning of my one-year cancerversary, I spent hours searching for the right French patisserie to purchase the cake and a mille feuille, my absolute favorite treat as a child. I hadn't eaten one in years and at some point while I was hospitalized during the second round of high-dose methotrexate, I started planning out what I would do if I made it to one year cancer-free.
I fasted my way through chemo, spent months vacillating between nausea, vomiting and being steroid-starving and hungry; almost everything I ate tasted metallic. So, I used to dream about how things once tasted. When my stomach rumbled but I was too queasy to eat, when my white blood cells were so low that I couldn't eat raw fruits and vegetables, I would close my eyes and think about the taste of bananas and broccoli; strawberry shortcake and Southern fried chicken; chocolate sorbet and sushi.
But for my one-year cancerversary, I envisioned a day full of happiness, reflection and thanks. A morning spent praying and thanking G-d for being in remission; a long walk to enjoy nature and being alive; a leisurely brunch with my husband, who spent more than a year putting my health and needs first, nursing me through some of the worst side effects imaginable; a mille feuille treat; a nap; a long schmooze with my Mom and at some point, a pizza party with my kids topped off by a smash cake.
I actually wanted a smash cake photo shoot with sprinkles and sparkles and a big number one on an ombre cake with a funny hat on top of the tufts of hair that have slowly grown over the last 12 months. I wanted to be surrounded by my husband and children and just laugh and rejoice that I've made it an entire year cancer-free, and I wanted to record it for posterity because I truly believe that I have a rebirth day and it deserves to be celebrated.
Dinner didn't work out quite as I had imagined; there was no photo shoot, smash cake or sprinkles, but we had sparklers and we all enjoyed a piece of store-bought chocolate mousse cake. Then I read my kids a book, put them to bed and cuddled up to my husband and puppy. I sent the leftovers with my husband to work the next day for his colleagues to enjoy. I was happy that I celebrated such an important milestone on my terms.
I'm sure my friend meant well but what works for her doesn't always work for everyone. We all have a right to decide how we want to live our lives, and how we want to celebrate life's special moments. We can climb Kilimanjaro or hike the Pacific Trail; we can go to a Rachel Hollis retreat and champion a cause; we can run a marathon or just take a slow walk in nature, catch the sunset on the beach or sit quietly in a room and watch the rain fall. And we can even celebrate surrounded by our loved ones and indulge in pizza and cake.
Especially when given another chance at life, it's our right to choose how we want to live it; and no one should say a damn thing about it.