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Life Under the ‘New Normal’ Umbrella

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 postsYou Can’t Go Back.

Reentry, Back to Normal, New Normal – Yet Another Cancer/Pandemic Parallel

Breast Cancer Is a String of Losses

How do you feel about the ‘new normal’ label or concept?

Have you found your new normal?

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Life Under the "New Normal" Umbrella #breastcancer #mastectomy #breastreconstruction #cancersucks #womenshealth

Closing Out Yet Another Year | Shelly's Point Of View

Wednesday 28th of December 2011

[...] 2011 was my first year spent in the cancer diagnosis limbo-land. It was the year I was supposed to define my “new normal.” [...]

Jody Schoger

Tuesday 21st of June 2011

Nothing stays static, whether it's old normal/ new normal/ survivor/ or thriver or whatever someone elects to call themselves after treatment has ended.

To call a new phase a "new normal," says that once upon a time you had a life that you want to return to. But that is impossible. The self that is returning, or more accurately, transforming, isn't the same physically, mentally or for some of us spirituality.

"New Normal" is just another one of those phrases the fell into the vocabulary and echoed, since it worked for some. All of us need to find our own words, our own definitions for life after treatment.

Thanks for a good discussion, jody


Wednesday 22nd of June 2011

Jody, Thank you for commenting about "new normal." Like you said returning to the life you once led is impossible. I have always thought "transforming" to be a word that fits the cancer experience pretty well because cancer certainly is that physically, mentally and even spiritually. I agree, everyone needs to pick and choose words that fit. That's the whole point really, there is no one-size-fits-all word for any aspect of the cancer experience. Thanks for adding to the discussion, Jody.


Tuesday 21st of June 2011

I'm right there with ya -- trying to figure this whole thing out, and blogging about it every step of the way! If someone had told me that (a) I'd have breast cancer at 40 and (b) I'd be telling everyone who will listen every single thing that's going on medically, I'd have said you're nuts! Yet here I am. With ya every step of the way.


Tuesday 21st of June 2011

Pinkunderbelly, I'm glad you are right here with me, well actually I'm not, I wish you didn't have breast cancer. What I am glad about is that you have decided to share about your experience too as we try to figure this whole thing out as you say. Blogging has kept me from actually 'being nuts' this past year I think! Thanks for your comments.

Dianne Duffy

Monday 20th of June 2011

Cancer is not really a "journey", it's a detour. Sometimes it's a dead-end. After my treatment ended I kept hearing about this "new normal". I remember thinking, "I hope this isn't the new normal", because the medication they were gave me for the lingering pain caused suicidal thoughts. For two years. If that was "normal", I wanted no part!

I honestly don't think I can ever get back to anything close to normal. Every day is a struggle, physically, emotionally, spiritually. How does one get back to normal after all this?


Tuesday 21st of June 2011

Dianne, Thank you so much for your comments which vividly remind us how some of the medications one must take do indeed have pretty awful side effects - nothing normal there! Having suicidal thoughts much have been quite frightening, I'm sorry you had to endure that. I understand about your struggles and hope you have found a way "to keep on keepin' on" as another commenter said.

Philippa (Feisty Blue Gecko)

Monday 20th of June 2011

Marvellous post, Nancy - and I just love the way you describe your solidarity with your Physiotherapist. There are such unexpecteds in all of this - gains as well as the challenges.

I also struggle with this strange new world of new normal, or whatever it is. I still feel a bit afloat and directionless at times.

I'm glad you find the Capt Paranoia concept useful - but I have to confess that I stole/borrowed it from a friend so cannot take the credit. Though I did develop him into a bit of a character, and can visualise him. It helps me put him in his place in a corner and get him off my shoulder!!!

Your post has given me lots of food for thought - no doubt it will come to light in a forthcoming blog post.


Monday 20th of June 2011

Philippa, Thank you for your kind words about this post. I appreciate your thoughts very much. You still feel a bit afloat and directionless, that is a marvelous way to put things too! There seems to be an 'at sea' tie in your choice of words here which seems quite appropriate as cancer can definitely feel like an overpowering force that swallows one up. We have to keep on kicking to stay afloat, as you say, don't we? Thanks again for your comments, Philippa.

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