In this post I’d like to address another one of those labels often thrown around post-cancer treatment when you are “turned loose” and expected to “get back out there.” Following treatment it seems to me you are expected to do one of two things, either get back to normal or get out there and find your new normal. In my opinion, the first option is not even possible and accomplishing the second one isn’t all that easy either.
I’m still trying to figure out this new normal concept.
New normal, what is that anyway? None of us were really all that normal to begin with were we? And now we need to find our new normal??
Nothing about life after a cancer diagnosis is really normal at all.
After cancer your perspective on just about everything changes; for good, or so it seems to me anyway. But then it hasn’t been all that long yet since my diagnosis, so maybe I don’t really know. I am still in the learning stages. Maybe there should be designated stages 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. Your relationships may have been affected, positively or negatively. Your life style habits may have changed or be in the process of changing. You may have trouble sleeping. Your career path perhaps evolved, changed direction or even ended. For some, fertility is affected and others face early menopause symptoms. Still others must continue adjuvant drug therapy which, of course, brings with it various unpleasant side effects. Sometimes clinical trials are called for and continue on for what seems an endless duration. This list is merely a sampling of some of the changes cancer often brings.
Something 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 therapist also has had breast cancer and partly because of this, we really hit it off. At my very first appointment with her, I ended up showing her my recent 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 just 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 Arimidex for five years, or as my husband calls it, my daily mini-chemo dose, being wary of sun/sunburn due to chemo, being diligent about wearing gloves while gardening because of lymphedema risk and wearing a sleeve for the same reason, recognizing a healthy diet/exercise program is now essential to ward of recurrence instead of something I used to try to do merely to look better and learning to ask for help more often because of my arm limitations and other limitations as well. This is just a sampling of the 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 is my new blogging life, a totally new normal for me. A year ago, I never would have dreamed of sharing the stuff I share on my 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 Fiesty Blue Gecko, thank you!) which of course really means learning to live with the ever lurking threat of recurrence.
Besides bringing with it change, another thing I do 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 really hard. Grieving for lost body parts, lost capabilities, lost relationships and old life styles can be extremely difficult. Truly accepting who you are is never easy and cancer can make doing this even harder.
All this change and upheaval is conveniently placed under the “finding your new normal” umbrella.
I’ll be working on figuring out this new normal concept for quite a while I guess.
One good thing is every day is a fresh start. Every day is another chance to find/figure out/live my new normal. Maybe that’s what life is all about anyway, figuring out your new normal every day.
And you don’t need to have had cancer to do that!