Reflecting on Cancer, Life and Death at my 50th High School Class Reunion

An ovarian cancer survivor explains how attending her 50th class reunion was an emotional experience as she learned of fellow classmates’ cancer experiences and struggles.

In September, I went to my 50th class reunion. You might think why I am writing about my Saturday evening event and what does that have to do with cancer?

I have been to all my high school reunions except one. When we all celebrated our 35th, someone mentioned we should have a birthday reunion when we all turned 55, and so we decided that would be a great idea. We have had birthday reunions from that point on for each of the big years.

Our class was a close class in so many ways. Many friendships have endured the test of time. We had classmates who married each other, and they are blessed to still be together. Several of our classmates went to Vietnam and were in Desert Storm. I did not realize that. I remember during the early reunions, the discussions were about new jobs, purchased homes, college successes, marriages and children. I am sure that some people tried to impress our fellow peers with their new cars and houses. Others were proud to show pictures of their children and other accomplishments. There was boasting and bragging about their lives to impress our fellow classmates. However, those things in the big picture, do not seem to count anymore!

Because I have been open on Facebook about my illness and have shared my experiences with CURE®, many of my classmates made a special effort to check in with me to see how I was doing at the reunion. That was amazing and wonderful. Through those conversations, they shared that they too, had cancer and were fighting just like me. I know there were other classmates that have kept their illnesses very private. I hope that they will reach out for support if they need it.

We had a class of just over 400 and we have lost at least 66 fellow classmates. While some of them we’re unable to locate, some of them chose not to participate and have never come to a reunion. We lost some classmates to physical and mental illnesses as well as some tragic reasons. It was all there: heart attacks, cancer, lung disease and even suicides. When we all saw the memorial slideshow of our friends who have died, you could hear a pin drop. It was solemn. It was sad. It was profound.

The kind of discussions from the early reunions had drastically changed. We were no longer boasting about a new house or car. We talked about retirement, downsizing and traveling as well as enjoying our families and friends. Many of us felt the need to continue to be close as we all were sharing the same health issues. We talked about Medicare plans and great deals for seniors. The pandemic and presidential election did change some of the friendships and that was very sad. While I am not sure if we lost any classmates to COVID-19, my guess is that we did lose some.

What a difference 50 years makes. I came home from the reunion feeling a connection to some new old friends. I will continue to keep in touch because I can always use their added support as I fight my cancer battle. Hopefully, I can be there for them as well.

As I look to the future, I celebrate my past and my cancer journey. We all need to just keep moving forward.

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