Cancerversary:

The most wonderful term you wish you’d never heard

My husband recently planned a beautiful evening for me at our favorite restaurant, complete with a night away at a boutique hotel in wine country, in honor of my “cancerversary”, which for me marked one year since being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37. It really felt very celebratory, filled with champagne toasts and cards and gifts. We talked about all that we’d gone through together over the prior year, our amazing kids, and what we were looking forward to professionally and personally in the coming year. On the walk back to the hotel through the town square covered in holiday lights, it really felt like a magical evening, and I felt so grateful for being healthy, on the other side of my cancer treatment, and for having so much incredible support through it all.

In the midst of all this, though, is the truth that of course I wish I had never heard of the term cancerversary. Some days I can’t wrap my head around the reality that for the rest of my life I’m going to be celebrating the fact that another year has passed where cancer hasn’t come back into my body.

As a breast cancer surgeon myself, I see patients in my practice who come in after their breast cancer treatment. They’ve used the whole experience as a call to action for them to transform their lives: eating more healthily, exercising regularly, and leaving stressful jobs or relationships. I’ve also felt this pull towards transformation since my diagnosis, trying to find more time to “just be” in the midst of my busy practice and family, being more present, and saying yes to every chance for special moments like snuggling time with my kids. I know for me personally, too, that being diagnosed with the same disease I treat every day has really changed the way I relate to my patients, the connections I develop with them, and the deep satisfaction and gratitude I get from being a part of their cancer journey.

So, yes, there is lots to celebrate with a cancerversary: from another year cancer-free, to space to reflect on the lessons learned from getting through treatment, to a reminder of how lucky you are to be healthy and celebrated and loved. And I’m grateful for all of this, and to have had early stage cancer where I’ll hopefully have many, many amazing cancer-free years ahead of me. But for myself, my patients, and everyone else who has cancerversaries in their lives, I still wish none of us had ever had to learn what a cancerversary was.

Anne Peled, MD, is a breast cancer surgeon, educator, and innovator practicing in San Francisco, CA.