Cancerversary – When Is It?

by Staci Wills

This week marks my three-year cancerversary – I think? Do you celebrate your cancerversary based on the day you were diagnosed or the day you finished chemo? Three years, in relation to my age (35), is a very short time. Three years goes by so quickly. Major life changes happen in just three years. I remember that when I was 10, I thought I would never be a teenager. At 13, I thought 16 would never arrive. From 18 to 21, I’ll admit that I wasn’t always honest about my age, and from 21 to 24, I graduated college, got married, and began my life as an adult. So many life changes can happen in just three years.

So if I choose to celebrate my cancerversary based on my original diagnosis date, then tomorrow will be my three-year cancerversary. Three years of life changing experiences I had no idea were coming my way. Three years of hurdles I can’t believe I had the strength to get over at times. Three years on an emotional roller coaster.

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer. Just like many rectal cancer patients, I had to undergo preoperative chemo and radiation, surgery to excise the tumor and create a permanent colostomy, and another six months of chemo to complete my treatment. After I completed my treatments, I thought I would be able to jump right back into life, but that was more difficult than I had imagined. Physically, my body had a long road of recovery ahead; emotionally, I hadn’t even begun to heal and I had no idea what was ahead. I was trying to fit back into life with a body I could not identify with. I can remember feeling that “nothing prepares you for the battle after the fight is over.”

At 33, I was living in the body of an 80 year old, and I had some heavy emotional baggage – not only from my cancer journey, but also from losing my fertility because of radiation and being sent into menopause at such a young age. I was a train wreck, physically and emotionally, and I thought I could just jump back into life?!?! Who was I kidding?

Healing would require time and patience. I went through physical therapy not once, not twice, but three times. I can’t count the number of different specialists I have seen to get rid of the leftover side effects of chemo, to check the organ function of those pelvic organs that also absorbed the radiation, and to try to find ways to deal with the scar tissue that seems to be the cause of much of my endless pain. I consider these my hurdles in a long marathon of recovery. I focus on the day all of this will be in the past, and I celebrate each milestone to a complete recovery.

A month ago, I rode my horse for the first time in three years. On the Fourth of July, I ran four miles for the first time since I ended physical therapy (again). Earlier this week, I rode my bike for the first time since my surgery. So much can change in such a short timeframe. This week I will celebrate my three-year (diagnosis) cancerversary as another milestone to a full recovery.