My Sister’s Cancer Anniversaries Are Days of Gratitude


My sister and I have learned to focus on the present day after a rollercoaster ride of remission, a cure and recurrence of stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma.

Illustration of a woman with long brown hair and a pink scarf.

Certain days around cancer have remained in my brain, but none more so than the day my sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, July 9, 2014, and her remission date, Jan. 14, 2016. Both days are important to me, whether you want to call them cancerversaries, as many do in the cancer community, or just anniversaries. Cancer is one of the more difficult things one can endure in life. Not every day is terrible, but the days are long and often challenging. To reframe cancer, not only for my sister but for myself, I tried to create celebrations to mark these anniversaries. To some, it may seem strange to celebrate cancer, and I agree. The thing is, it was not about celebrating her diagnosis or her having cancer. Instead, it was about celebrating how far she had come. That despite a devastating diagnosis, against all the odds, she had survived and reached or achieved another milestone.

Through the years, we marked these anniversaries in different ways. One year, we celebrated with a dinner out with just the two of us. Another year, we attended an event for cancer survivors at Flight Over the Rockies in Denver, Colorado. Like so much in life, it was not about what we were doing but about acknowledging the day and taking a moment to pause and reflect. During cancer, the conversations would be about how much had happened in the past 365 days and our hopes for how different life might be in a year from now.

For me, that second notion, a year from now, was a difficult one to wrap my head around. There were so many times during her first battle with cancer that we did not know she would survive. So, when we talked about a date far off in the future, I tried my best to hide my sadness from her and let her daydream of a time she may be in remission. Anniversaries took on a different tone when that day finally did come, and remission was achieved.

Reflecting on an anniversary without her actively fighting cancer brought tremendous joy and relief that cancer could now be discussed in the past tense. Gratitude for the miraculous outcome that nobody was expecting would become a reality. Furthermore, ironically, my sister and I spoke less about the future than when she was battling cancer. I think subconsciously, it happened because, instead of hoping for a cancer-free future, it was something we were now lucky enough to be living.

January of 2021 was five years since my sister received her bone marrow transplant, and once that day came, they deemed her not only in remission but cured. For this occasion, we got together for dinner to celebrate this huge milestone. Unbeknownst to either of us, just four months later, we would learn through a routine follow-up that while celebrating her cure date, cancer was growing rapidly within her and ravaging her all over again.

May of 2021 brought an official re-diagnosis of stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. Beyond wrapping our heads around the news, I have struggled with the anniversaries surrounding cancer in a way I had not before. Whereas the first time I was able to reframe and reflect, I found myself unable to do the same this time around. Ultimately it is like so much about my sister's original and second diagnoses; things are vastly different. Originally, marking anniversaries was beneficial then, they do not seem to be this time, which is OK. Accepting that reality has allowed me to acknowledge my emotions, note the significance of dates surrounding cancer and focus more on the present day.

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