We all remember 9 -11- where we were ,when we heard about the terrorist attacks, and how we felt that moment and the days that followed. Whenever we experience a traumatic event, our brain moves into a high alert state, records the event and causes the body’s stress response ( fight or flight) to engage.
Anniversary reactions are the re-experiencing of those past traumatic events. When the specific event is remembered, our response can be felt both emotionally as well as physically. Although each of us “feels our pain” differently, anniversary reactions can happen to anyone. These reactions can create emotions that range from sadness to extreme distress, anger, anxiety, and physical responses ( such as sweating, increased heart rate, GI distress).
These reactions can be triggered by the specific date of the trauma or even a situation that bring up the memory- like a particular sound, sight, or even smell. It is not unusual for cancer survivors to experience anniversary reactions to the various losses and struggles that cancer brings into their lives.
Has this ever happened to you? Well- it is enough of a common experience that there is a name that has been given to it. CANCERVERSARY. A cancerversary can be:
– The date, month or time of year of your diagnosis
– When treatment ended or is expected to end
– The date of surgery or first biopsy or when margins were clear
– The date a loved one died
– The number of months or years since being declared cancer –free
– Any date or period of time that holds significance for you
So, how do you best try and manage these reactions? First, be mindful of the calendar- Be on the lookout for the time that you associate with the difficult event. It’s not that you MUST be distressed, but knowing that you might feel vulnerable at that time helps prepare you to have some plans to take special care of yourself . It usually doesn’t work trying to forget a painful experience. I saw a great quote- “ Nothing improves the memory more than trying to forget it”.
Rituals are a very helpful way to honor your feelings. These can be as simple as lighting a candle, taking a pleasurable walk in nature, planting something that will grow and flourish, or even having a special meal. It doesn’t matter what it is as much as that you are honoring your experience.It’s also important not to isolate yourself- try to connect with those who can offer you support. Remember, it’s OK to allow yourself time and space to feel the emotions . Of course, if you feel too overwhelmed with the distress, and can not regain your emotional balance, reach out and seek professional help from either your physician or contact your local mental health professional.
For most cancer survivors, just giving yourself the time and space to acknowledge the impact of the event will be healing. What’s your Cancerversary? What way do you need to mark the time to move you forward in your healing?