As I approach the fourth anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, I’m caught between conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I’m extremely grateful to still be around. Reaching cancerversary #4 is a milestone. Definitely cause for celebration. But with the cancer reactivated and recent moves to new medication and more time in the chemo room, the celebratory urge has become more muted.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve struggled with how to have cancer and how to talk about it. Heading toward the cancerversary, I also struggle with how to mark the anniversary of cancer’s entrance into my life. On the first cancerversary, a dear friend who lost his wife to the cancer I have brought over champagne. We toasted the fact that I was living with cancer, that the medication had put me into remission, that our lives were beginning to resemble our lives before cancer.
But a heavy sadness followed quickly on the heels of that first cancerversary. To be sure: I was thankful I had made it to my first anniversary of living with cancer. I tried to focus on the positive. In my interior life, however, the accent of the observance fell on the cancer part of the cancerversary. The reality of my incurable diagnosis dominated my December. Yes, I was living with cancer. But how many more cancerversaries would there be?
How do we mark an anniversary that signals both life and death? And how do I live in this space punctuated by both grace and grief?
That my cancerversary falls in Advent offers a possible way forward. The season of Advent—easy to miss amidst our glitz-saturated shopping season—is a time of waiting in darkness for light. Advent anticipates the in breaking of Love into our mortal, finite lives. Advent marks the beginning of a new year, where waiting and uncertainty eventually give way to hope. Hope that our earthly stories of living into and out of cancerversaries is ultimately part of a much larger story, a story where love is strong as death, where the grace in our days is but a foretaste of the feast to come.
I guess there’s an appropriateness to observing a cancerversary in Advent. It comes in the darkness and beckons us to watch for in breakings of light.