Normality is a variable concept. Once you've had news that shatters your sense of 'normal' you have to learn to adapt and find that 'new normal', or else your sense of self will be obliterated. This is a common thing that seems to happen to us ladies when we've been given the news that we have cancer.
Initially you are caught up in what seems to be a whirlwind as you are sent for various tests and have to attend many appointments. Generally most of us were fit and healthy individuals who had little contact with health professionals – yet all these hospital visits strangely become our 'new normal'. In fact it was spending so much time in hospital that made me want to work as a nurse again...but that's just me. I think most of my friends hated being there!!
When you get your treatment plan your 'new normal' shifts yet again. You live in three weekly/weekly) cycles when the poisonous chemotherapy drugs are pumped into your body; you submit yourself to the hands of the surgical team who – you hope – will remove the offender from your body; and you allow intense beams of radiation to fry the damaged parts...all in the hope that this will kill the perpetrator and prevent it from ever coming back.
After all the so called 'active' treatment is finished you may find yourself taking other drugs to help keep the cancer from returning. Or you may still be a frequent user of the health services due to side effects of the treatment. This is now your 'new normal'.
It's often hardest once all the treatment is completed and everyone thinks that you're all better. You start to look less ill, your hair grows back and it seems it's all in the past. I so wish that was the case. For me the after effects from treatment are quite mild compared to others. I wake up every morning with numb hands (which makes turning the alarm clock off interesting when you can't feel the button!). I have less energy than I did BC (before cancer), although I have more good days in between, and I'm hoping this will continue to improve. My brain seems to still be lagging behind. I have paper all over the house with lists and reminders on it...and I often get halfway through a conversation when I forget what I'm talking about, or forget the name for something. 'Chemo Brain' is recognised by the medical profession.
But despite all this, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. The alternative is a much less attractive proposition. This is my 'normal' now. Trying to adapt to this new life I have and all that goes with it.
What I am most envious of from my 'old' life is that I didn't have the worries and anxieties. If I hurt somewhere it was just 'normal'...maybe it was a pulled muscle from overdoing it, or I'd slept at an odd angle and it made my neck hurt.
Now my first thought is cancer. I seem to have a 'fast track' pass to the hospital...anything you have reason to see a doctor about – they'll be looking for cancer too. I don't think it helps that you will never get a bit of paper saying that you're all cured, it won't ever come back. It’s a little bit like a time bomb waiting to go off. My hip aches...it's spread to my bones. I have a headache...it's in my brain. I'm not alone in this either. I'm sure between the lot of us my beautiful tribe have convinced ourselves that we have got cancers and illnesses that probably don't even exist! Having cancer not only affects your body, but it messes with your head big time. 'Normal' people don't think like this do they? I certainly never used to think like this BC and I'm sure most of them didn't either. This is the 'new' normal we are trying to live with.
Of course, we don't all spend our days sitting worrying about this. We do try and carry on and fit in (when we can) with everyone else's normal...going to work, looking after the children, having holidays, going to parties etc.
We celebrate things that other people would think odd. Say if somebody went for a bone scan and results came back showing they have arthritis...we’d cheer those results. It's not cancer – yay! BC this would have seemed rather strange.
Sadly, for some of my friends their 'new' normal is the one none of us wants. They have stage 4 cancer. Metastatic cancer. Secondaries. That means it is incurable. Medical advances mean that there is a chance that the cancer can be stabilised with medication and they may live for a long time...but that 'terminal' word is always hanging over them. Their clock ticks a little bit faster and a little bit louder.
This week our tribe were all rocked to the core upon learning that one of us had been given this very news. Obviously we are all devastated that another of our friends has to undergo further treatment. Sadly it is not an uncommon occurrence in this new world we inhabit. At this time we aren't sure of the extent of the spread or what plan is to be put in place. We are all anxiously waiting to hear.
Nowhere else have I witnessed such an outpouring of sadness and love and heartfelt wishes that flowed upon hearing the news. The total togetherness was absolute. I think it true to say 'if one bleeds, we all bleed'. That is very much our mentality. However after the shockwaves diminished, we set about doing what we do best, rallying round and offering our unconditional support both practically and emotionally.
Whilst it is fair to say that what we can actually do is limited, what we can offer is limitless. Our 'normal' has shifted once again to encompass this new news. Our energies are now spent on buoying each other up, helping those who are drowning a little to stay afloat, and loving each other that little bit harder. We can't allow ourselves to be dragged down...we have to help each other ride out the storm, wherever it may take us and them. We have to keep OUR normal and not borrow theirs. That helps nobody.
In an ideal world my 'normal' would be just like everyone else's, and I would have little knowledge of what I know now. But then I suppose everyone has their own demons. And without this constantly changing 'new normal' I seem to live in, I wouldn't have my tribe. And whilst I wish that I hadn't had to meet them I am so very glad that I did. They can make what others see as abnormal seem all right. I would be totally lost without them.