6 Tips for Recognizing Milestones in a Life With Cancer

April 14, 2016
Greg Guthrie, ASCO staff

Milestones go hand in hand with cancer. What are milestones? They are the signposts along the side of the road that show how far you’ve gone in your cancer journey. Milestones can be the date of your cancer diagnosis, the end of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the anniversary of surgery to treat your cancer, each follow-up visit, or monthly or annual anniversaries of having no signs or symptoms of cancer. They can be all of these and they can be none.

A lot of cancer survivors have mixed emotions about milestones and anniversaries of important dates. Milestones can trigger a range of emotions, from gratitude and relief to pain and sadness to fear of cancer recurrence, even after years have passed. One of the best ways to recognize milestones and the emotions they evoke is to take ownership of them. Choose how you want to reflect on the changes in your life, both difficult and positive. You may want to celebrate your hard work and the fact that you are a cancer survivor. Or you may need extra support from friends, family, or a health professional. Preparing yourself for anniversary dates and honoring them in ways that are meaningful to you may help you sort through complex emotions and reflect on your experiences. share on twitter 

Just remember to talk to your family and friends before your milestones arrive. They’ve experienced your cancer diagnosis and treatment in a different way, so they may have different thoughts about how to honor these anniversaries. Talk with them about your needs and your perspective before milestones arrive.

Here are some tips for recognizing your milestones.

Take time to reflect. Arrange for a quiet time to think about your cancer experience and reflect on the changes in your life. Some people prefer to do this privately. Others want to share their thoughts with family and friends. If you choose to reflect privately, you may find comfort through journaling or keeping a diary. It allows you to record your thoughts and feelings as you approach a milestone. You can also read previous journal entries and think about where you’ve been and where you are now.

Plan a special occasion. Having a special event is a good way to recognize milestones. Some examples are a trip you may have put off, a gathering with family and friends, or a nice dinner at a favorite restaurant.

Donate or volunteer. Many cancer survivors find that sharing their time, skill, or money helps give positive meaning to their experience. This can include donating money to a cancer charity, the cancer center where you were treated, or another organization you value. But you can also donate items, like wigs or prosthetic devices, to a local hospital or a national organization. Others choose to volunteer. They share their time and firsthand experience by serving with a cancer support organization, caring for friends and family members living with cancer, or becoming a patient advocate.

Join an established celebration. There are a lot of events that already exist to recognize milestones, such as annual walks or races hosted by patient advocacy groups and cancer organizations. In addition, some hospitals and treatment centers hold reunions and other events for cancer survivors. Communities all over the world celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day, which is held on the first Sunday in June.

Do something you like. Celebrating milestones doesn't have to involve elaborate or expensive activities. Any activity—such as a walk in the woods, seeing a movie, or getting a massage—can be a celebration if it’s something you like to do.

Celebrate your way. You’ve heard the stories of cancer survivors who run marathons or raise thousands of dollars to celebrate their milestones. They’re amazing and inspiring! But that doesn’t need to be you. Remember that everyone experiences cancer and its milestones differently. How you choose to own your milestones is unique and valuable.