Let’s talk about one of those labels often thrown around post-cancer treatment when you are turned loose and expected to get back out there — also known as figuring out life under the ‘new normal’ umbrella. Or, simply finding your new normal, whatever that means.
Following treatment (if you’re “lucky” enough to have a treatment that ends), you are expected to do one of two things — get back to normal or get out there and find your new normal. As far as I’m concerned, the first option isn’t even possible and accomplishing the second one isn’t all that easy either.
What the heck does finding your new normal even mean?
I’m still trying to figure this out. Maybe you are too.
New normal, what is that anyway?
No one was likely all that normal or living a normal life before cancer.
And now, we’re supposed to find our new normal??
Nothing about life after a cancer diagnosis is normal at all.
You can’t go back. You’re old normal is gone. For good.
After cancer, just about everything changes or is impacted. For good. Or, so it seems to me anyway. But, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. I am still in the figuring-this-shit-out stage. Maybe there should be a designated stage for this part of cancer too.
Then again, maybe not; that would just be more labeling wouldn’t it?
What I do know for sure is that cancer brings change and lots of it.
If you’ve had surgery, radiation or chemo, your physical appearance is
probably definitely altered. Your physical capabilities, stamina and strength may be temporarily or permanently impaired. Relationships may have been affected, positively or negatively. Your life style habits may have changed. You might have trouble sleeping. Your career path perhaps evolved, changed direction or even ended. For some, fertility is affected and others face early menopause. Still others must continue adjuvant drug therapy which, of course, brings with it various unpleasant side effects.
This list is merely a sampling of some of the changes cancer often brings. I’m not sure there is any part of my life not impacted by cancer. Right now, it sure doesn’t seem like it.
Maybe that’s my new normal.
One thing that is very much a part of my new normal now is going to way more doctor appointments than I did in my “other life.” The latest addition to this particular realm of my new normal has been adding a physical therapist to my medical team.
This particular medical professional has quickly become one of my favorite team members. I actually sort of look forward to these appointments. I said, sort of.
My physical therapist also has had breast cancer and partly because of this we hit it off. At my first appointment, I ended up showing her my nipple reconstruction results because she was having trouble making a decision about whether to have the procedure done or not. She wondered, she asked, and I volunteered.
How’s that for a new normal?
She, in turn, showed me her chest lymphedema. That pretty much tells you how well we hit it off. She almost does double duty as a physical therapist/shrink. Trouble is, we only get forty-five minutes to an hour, so there isn’t
much any time to waste.
Besides needing physical therapy for my new normal arm and what sometimes seems like a gazillion ongoing doctor appointments, a few other additions to my new normal are: taking an aromatase inhibitor medication for five+ years (probably ten), being even more wary of sun/sunburn, being diligent about wearing gloves when gardening because of lymphedema risk and wearing a sleeve for the same reason, recognizing that a healthy diet/exercise program is now more important than ever to try to ward of recurrence, struggling to sleep at night and learning to ask for help because of my arm limitations and other limitations as well. And let’s not forget, trying to get used to a whole new body now minus some very important female parts.
This is just a tiny sampling of my list, but you get the picture.
It’s a picture of change, acceptance and adaptation, all of which are sometimes necessary on a daily basis.
Then, there’s my blogging life, a totally new normal for me. Before my diagnosis, I would never have dreamed of sharing stuff I share here on the blog and now it feels, well, normal.
Finally, there are the psychological ramifications of a cancer diagnosis which are many, but the BIG one is the now constant and unwelcome companionship of Captain Paranoia (great name I’m borrowing from Feisty Blue Gecko, thank you!) which, of course, means learning to live with the ever-lurking threat of recurrence.
Besides bringing with it change, another thing I know for sure about this elusive new normal, is that it requires a tremendous amount of self-acceptance and patience with oneself.
This part can be hard, really hard. Grieving for lost body parts, lost capabilities, lost relationships and just the old me, period,
can be is extremely difficult. Accepting who you are is never easy, but cancer does a real number on you.
All this change and upheaval is conveniently placed under the “finding your new normal“ umbrella. Kinda feels like some major BS.
I’ll be working on figuring out this new normal concept for quite a while I guess. Probably from here on out. It’s already making me tired.
One good thing is that every day is a fresh start. Every day is another chance to figure shit out.
Cancer or no cancer, maybe that’s what life is all about anyway, figuring out your new normal every day.
Other relevant posts: You Can’t Go Back.
How do you feel about the ‘new normal’ label or concept?
Have you found your new normal?