Cake with candles on plates made of blood cells

A Diagnosiversary Wish for You

January 15 is my diagnosiversary. I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma 12 years ago.

It’s a doubly special cancer day for me. I started treatment two years to the day after I was diagnosed. So it’s also been 10 years since I started my first rituximab treatment. After six rounds of the stuff, I haven’t needed another treatment since then.

Some people call this day an anniversary. Some call it a cancerversary. I really like “diagnosiversary.” It’s kind of a hard word to say. It takes some practice.

But I also think it’s a funny word, and it makes me laugh a little to say it. It’s ridiculous.

And that kind of sums up my 12 years as a cancer patient. Obviously hard at times, but also kind of ridiculous.

My surprise follicular lymphoma diagnosis

I was diagnosed at 40 years old. I have a wife and three kids (10, 8, and 6 at the time). I was the healthiest I’d ever been, running 5k road races, and collecting race t-shirts. My birthday and Christmas gifts from family were things like neon vests, so I could run safely in the dark, and waist leashes so our dog could run with me. A friend celebrated his 40th birthday by getting a tattoo of his favorite team’s logo on his calf. My “midlife crisis” was to search online for triathlon training advice.

The idea that someone who is young and healthy would get cancer? It was as absurd as the word “diagnosiversary.”

The ridiculousness of cancer

But at some point, the absurd becomes ridiculous: worthy of ridicule. Even laughable. As serious a business as cancer is, I had to laugh sometimes at what it had all become. I can’t count the number of doctors, nurses, radiation techs, medical students, and probably a few janitors who have seen me without pants on. How is that not funny to think about?

I probably owe my life to rituximab, a monoclonal antibody made from mice. Little rodent cells coursing through my veins. It gave me a constant craving for cheese. How can I not laugh thinking about that?

It's all about balance

If I’ve learned one lesson in 12 years of living with blood cancer, it’s that I need to accept both the hard and the ridiculous. The sad and the funny. The good and the bad.

Part of that is attitude. The same situation (yet another medical student coming to see me with my pants down!) can embarrass me and ruin my day. Or I can just accept it and share the story with my wife later on and maybe have a laugh about it.

That comes with time. Twelve years feels like an eternity, like I’ve never not had cancer. And 10 years without treatment gives me enough distance to see the humor. It was a lot harder to have that attitude when I was first diagnosed.

My diagnosiversary wish

And so when I blow out the candles on my diagnosiversary cake (and you better believe I will have cake), I will make a wish:

That all of you are able to find the balance in your lives, and see your cancer in whatever way helps you get through the day, any given day. And mostly that you have the distance to do it, and all the many years of diagnosiversaries that come with that.

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