A table with a lamp has a picture framed of someone ringing a bell while a cupcake and calendar sit nearby.


Anniversaries may record and celebrate happy occasions: wedding anniversaries, celebrations for tenure at a job, milestone birthdays. There are also milestones, or anniversaries, for cancer patients, too.

Different anniversaries with cancer

Diagnosis day – and how we've moved forward since

We likely don’t celebrate it, but most of us remember the day we received the unwanted diagnosis. While D-day (diagnosis day) is not a day to recognize happily, it's still a day that seems forever etched in our minds.

But… if we’re looking at the anniversary of the diagnosis, it means we’ve continued to live our lives, our treatment is hopefully doing what it's designed to do, and we have had more time to enjoy with our family and friends, to move forward in our life. Sometimes, that forward move might be one day at a time, but it’s still moving. That, in itself, I think is cause for recognition and celebration large or small.

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The end of a treatment cycle

People celebrate the end of chemotherapy or radiation. I have a picture of my beautiful, hairless daughter ringing the bell at the end of her gruesome chemo. Chemo was very hard on her, as it is with most people, but she rang the bell with a big smile and joy at being finished with that phase of her treatment. The picture reminds us (although I don’t think we’ll ever forget) the anniversary of her bell ringing and what it represented.

When I had the opportunity to ring the bell at the end of my radiation, and my husband, a prostate cancer survivor, was offered the opportunity to ring the bell at the end of his chemo treatments, we both declined. Those were anniversary days we didn’t want to recognize or remember, so ringing a bell in celebration, to us, didn’t seem appropriate or heartfelt. Everyone feels differently about the end of a treatment cycle; we’re all entitled to do what’s right for us.

Followup exams

We celebrate, as I think many people do, each year after an annual thorough exam shows the cancer has not returned. There is sometimes, however, just a little tinge of sadness or fear after these check-ups. Certainly, we’re glad that all is well, but we may anticipate another year of wondering if the cancer will return.

Some anniversaries can be a two-edged sword: celebration and anxiety. There’s no right or wrong; we each have a right to our feelings and to manage them in the way that’s best for us.

Recognizing anniversaries with others

Sometimes family doesn’t understand the way we recognize an anniversary, whether it’s with celebration or anxiety. But family and friends who have been part of our cancer journey also have their own emotions. Here’s where communication is really important. I think it's important to share our thoughts as we reach a milestone and not exclude them.

Those who love us and have stood by our sides should understand how we feel. We, and they, also need to realize that our emotions are personal and belong to us. There can be a fine line between sharing our thoughts and setting our limits.

Everyone recognizes anniversaries differently

Everyone recognizes their milestones, or anniversaries, in a different way. We each need to do what works for us. We are each unique, our experiences are unique, and our lifestyle and family are also unique. As the saying goes, you do you.

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