What’s a Cancerversary? How to Celebrate or Remember


It might be safe to assume that you or someone you love has or had cancer. Before you read any further — take a pause. Think about this person, whether it’s you or someone else. Think about their experience with cancer. What are some of the most significant moments that come to mind? Which one sticks out the most?

Jump ahead to these sections: 

Once you have done this exercise and have your answer, you’re well on your way to understanding and celebrating a cancerversary.

Throughout this post, we’ll explain what they are, how to celebrate them, as well as how to tell someone “happy cancerversary.” You may also be interested in these positive messages for cancer patients.

What’s a Cancerversary?

A cancerversary is fully personal to anyone with cancer or a deep connection to it. A cancerversary can be any milestone throughout your journey with cancer or the journey of someone you love. 

These milestones can be positive, negative, or somewhere in between. With any disease, there are likely high points and low points. But, as you may know, there is beauty, even in the valleys of life.

If you’re wondering just how much cancerversaries can differ from one person to the next, here are a few examples. That being said, any person may have more than one cancerversary, especially if they went through extensive treatment. 

Some potential cancerversaries include:

  • The date of a diagnosis
  • The date of a surgery
  • The date of the start of a round of treatment
  • The final day of a round of treatment
  • The day you or learned you were in remission (or someone you love)
  • The day someone you love died of cancer
» MORE: Everyone's wishes are different. Here's how to honor your unique loved one.

How Do You Celebrate a Cancerversary?

There really are no rules when it comes to celebrating a cancerversary. You can treat it just as you would any other birthday or holiday. Depending on who the guest of honor is, you can even have traditions or a set of guidelines that you follow each year. Or, they can change accordingly. 

Example activities for cancerversary celebrations 

For example, you can celebrate in a specific location, plan a particular menu, listen to certain types of music, watch specific movies, give gifts to one another, and so on. 

Your plans may also have to change a bit, depending on how you or your loved one is feeling. However, lowkey celebrations can often be just as special. 

Keeping track of cancerversaries

When you or a loved one is sick, time may take on a different meaning. You may not look at the year as a typical calendar. Instead, you may be focusing on treatment schedules or checkups. But, that being said, you may also cherish each and every moment that much more.

Cancerversaries provide an opportunity to celebrate or take pause, even in the chaos of it all. It’s crucial to take time to enjoy your life — ill or not.

In order to keep track of all these traditions and customs — as well as your cancerversaries if you have multiple — you may consider putting together a DIY memory book

This is a great idea to help you look back on the good memories with loved ones, even if it may be painful at times. Not being able to look back would be more painful, after all. A memory book can also help you recognize that there are often difficult times mixed in with good times as well.  

How Can You Help Someone Celebrate Their Cancerversary?

Helping someone celebrate a cancerversary can be thought of like any other holiday. However, you have even more freedom to make the day whatever you and your loved ones can dream up. 

Think outside the box, but make it central to things that the loved one you’re honoring loves. You can get as specific or general as you prefer. 

Start traditions, or come up with something different every year—it’s up to you and your creativity, but the ideas below should certainly help.

Plan a parade

For older or younger cancerversary honorees, perhaps a parade around their neighborhood is the perfect way to celebrate. You can push or pull them in a homemade float or tricked-out wagon, or, simply with all the windows rolled down in your vehicle. 

A parade is also a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy togetherness and community—but safely—especially if anyone in attendance is still recovering. 

Have a beach, lake, or nature day

Time in nature is incredibly healing. It’s likely that your loved one missed plenty of sunshine and fresh air while dealing with surgeries, physical therapy, and other treatments. 

You can help them take advantage by planning a nature-themed cancerversary celebration. Letting mother nature be the host will take a lot of the pressure off you, too. 

If you want to go the extra mile, plan at least a sunrise or a sunset activity to take it all in—and camp out if you need to.

Have a block party or cookout

For the foodie or chef celebrating a cancerversary, a giant (or intimate) block party or cookout may just be what the doctor ordered. 

They may want to take charge in the kitchen, as cooking and baking can be very therapeutic. Just be sure to lend support or go on grocery runs as needed. 

However, there’s nothing wrong with planning a catered event at a local park, too. And, if that plan falls through, you can always book a private room at a favorite restaurant. If you ask, the staff there can likely make the event just as special. 

» MORE: You need more than a will. Start here.

Coordinate a gala

A gala can totally be open to your interpretation. It may not mean renting out a swanky venue in the poshest part of town. It may just mean dressing up with your loved ones in the attire of your choosing and heading out to wherever you please. 

You can even rent a limo or party bus to increase the hype factor. Locals may think your loved one is a celebrity—and they practically are!  

Head to a bucket list destination

People of all ages can have a bucket list destination. It’s never too early or late to dream of somewhere new to travel to. This might be a theme park, natural park, beach, city, country, even restaurant or bakery—the possibilities are endless. 

You don’t need a huge budget to check off something like this. And, you can always keep the celebration small for a few years and save up for a bigger outing.

Enjoy a slumber party at home

A slumber party can be a fun, low-budget cancerversary idea for people of all ages—especially kids. Invite all their friends and fill your home with plenty of pillows and bedding for forts, as well as snacks, movies, games, crafts, and more. 

You likely have a lot of these items around your home already, and this idea probably won’t take a ton of coordination beyond the invitations.  

How Do You Tell Someone ‘Happy Cancerversary’?

If you’re celebrating a cancerversary with someone you love, you may want to say more to them than just a simple, “happy cancerversary.”

Depending on what the upcoming cancerversary is commemorating, the best thing to say may differ. Here are several different ideas that you should find helpful.  

1. Congratulations on your remission, I knew you could do it!

You don’t need to overcomplicate a congratulatory sentiment when someone is in remission.

They might be too overwhelmed with emotion to get hung up on whether you said the right or wrong thing. And, if you care, you’ll definitely say the right thing, anyway!

2. I’m so proud of you for finishing another round of treatments. I know it was tough, but you were so brave!

Regardless of the outcome, finishing a round of treatment is no small feat. Treatments are often painful and grueling in and of themselves and often come along with side effects that are as tough as the disease. 

To celebrate a loved one who’s finishing up a round of treatment, you may consider grabbing them a gift or taking them on a small adventure when they are up to it. You may also be interested in these small gifts for friends.

3. I know this is a tough day for you, but look how far you’ve come. Be proud!

If someone you love is coming up on a cancerversary, such as an anniversary of their diagnosis, they may be in an odd mood. If their health hasn’t declined much, that’s something worth celebrating in itself.

It may be difficult to help them remain positive, but putting in your best effort won’t go unnoticed.

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4. I’m thinking of you on your [friend/family member]’s cancerversary. I love you, and I miss them, too.

If someone you love (such as a close friend or a partner) celebrates a cancerversary in honor of a late loved one, this can be a good message to say to them.

Your message may differ slightly, of course, depending on whether or not you knew their late loved one. 

5. Today is a big day! How are you feeling?

We often can’t control it, but sometimes the “biggest” or “best” days of the year can have us feeling our worst. Try to remain sensitive to your loved ones on their cancerversary, even if it is meant to be a day of celebration. 

6. Congratulations on another milestone — I hope you’re as proud of yourself as we are!

Cancer is not a job, and cancer is not an education. Yet, in many ways, it is both of these things and more. It has a way of hijacking and consuming someone’s life.

 If they feel behind in other aspects of adulthood (or childhood, or whatever), it may make it hard for them to feel proud of themselves. However, getting better and remaining present — through good times and bad — are accomplishments in themselves. 

7. You are so special to me — I’m so glad we’re sharing this day together!

Sometimes it’s not about a specific message that you say to someone, but what you can show them with your actions. Many people feel the most cared for when others spend quality time with them.

Keep this in mind when you’re planning activities for a cancerversary as well. Do your best to gauge how your loved one is feeling and what they may be up for. You may also be interested in these tips for how to show someone you care.

8. I want us to spend the day doing whatever you want to do. I love you so much and I’m so happy you’re here with me.

Similar to the message above, it’s likely really meaningful to your loved one that you just want to spend time with them.

Though cancerversaries are an opportunity to do something elaborate and celebrate, perhaps it would be more special to not do much of anything at all. Respect whatever your loved one’s wishes are and go along for the ride. 

9. I like today more than my own birthday because it’s the day I knew you were going to be able to stay here with me.

This is a nice message to say on someone’s cancerversary if they received a positive prognosis or a status of remission. It’s also possible that they will want to recognize a day as significant as this as their new birthday.

After all, when something as large as cancer looms over your life, ridding yourself of it can change the way you look at everything. 

10. Today is supposed to be about you and how much we all love you! 

Remind your loved one why you all choose to celebrate a cancerversary at all. If they are still here with you, this is something remarkable and worth celebrating in itself.

Remind your loved one that they don’t have to do anything other than just be and enjoy everyone’s company. 

Celebrate Small Wins 

When it comes to something as difficult to deal with as a cancer diagnosis, it may be hard to find yourself focusing on the positives all the time. It’s OK to be realistic, and it’s fully expected to be down sometimes. However, you should do your best to celebrate the small wins.

 If you find that celebrating more than one cancerversary keeps you and your loved ones in better spirits, then, by all means, go for it! You may also be interested in these other milestones to celebrate and reflect on.

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