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The Great Myth of “Back to Normal”

There is no back to normal after cancer. There is, instead, something I call the “new normal”.

I often joked that my oncologist was a bit of a downer – if you asked her, “What can happen? Tell me that I am good.”, her answer would be to tell us about how some cancer comes back and sometimes it spreads, which is Stage 4 and is “treatable but not curable” and as I was just new on this whole cancer ride, freaked me the hell out but now, I get it. I truly get that I am lucky I was just stage 3A and I will try to do anything I can to stop progression and to not have the cancer spread anywhere else. I also know that anything and everything I do can be futile as the truth is doctors just do not know why some people progress to stage 4. Even stage 0, stage 1, etc have the potential to wind up stage 4.

Lisa at home on Christmas Eve.

So with the this new understanding of mortality (which I guess I thought I was immortal before), I have to say it has made me feel “free”. For instance, before I got cancer, I would have a panic attack in the night thinking that I would die without reason and now I guess I could panic all the time that I will die from cancer but instead, I just want to LIVE. That does not mean that I do not miss my old normal of fear and worry because damn it was so nice to worry about things that did not exist in retrospect. My oncologist told me right before my last chemo that there was no reason to think I won’t be cured and to just go forth and live as though I was unless she told me otherwise. As pithy as this may sound, it worked for me.

I know now after becoming a blogger and advocate and building my community of people who have walked this road before that there really is no such thing as “cured” with cancer. It is something monumental that happened in our bodies and a vast network of things had to break in order to develop this disease so it is not like “poof, all is well now”. Recovering from cancer is not so easy as it impacts us beyond the physical. It also impacts our relationships, our family, our mental state, our spiritual feelings and more.

Managing Cancer at Home

When I got cancer, it was like my whole family got it, too.

My children worried and internalized and basically feared that I would die. In fact, my son who was 6 at my diagnosis told me that he would visit me when I lived in the cemetery. When I asked him why I would be living in the cemetery, he told me that a lot of people with cancer die. I reassured him that I have no intention of dying and that my doctors did not tell me that I would die and the whole time I was thinking to myself how much I was lying in the sense that no one can tell you if you will die or not at anytime. I mean, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow (God forbid) but the fact is for children there is no understanding of the gray areas of life. However, even my husband and mom and other family members are scared and unable to let the fear lie – they think instead that I am cured and all is well but the truth it, we do not know this to be true. That being said, to live a full life, I try to block this out and not dwell on it and I let my husband, for instance, tell me I “had cancer” and that I am “cured” because I know it makes him feel better.

On the way to a job interview in NYC.

In the way back of my mind, though, I know I am not officially “good” or “healthy” as no one is. None of us know what is going on in our bodies at any given time. In order to truly go back to normal, it would entail that world of worry I now consciously leave behind. This is my confession as a former Type A person who worried about everything – there is nothing in life that is fixed by worry. I would not have learned this whopper of a lesson without being told “you have cancer” at 39 years old. And that is sad but I have forgiven myself for it.

I forgave myself for a lot of things – and I also try to live and let live with other things, too. I do not need any vendettas or other emotional disasters taking up my well being. This is hard for someone like me who remembered wrongs for too long and dished out silent treatment and otherwise let things “stew”  because it was what I did or how I was taught to deal with emotions.

This new normal also includes a future with my husband and I still married to one another. That I did not expect at all. You see, being married is hard work and my husband was someone who struggled with his own issues and for a long time, we had separate lives, schedules and wants for the future. I never doubted he loved me but I did doubt his ability to love or show his love. That sounds so cheesy but when I got sick this man was my rock and I was so thankful to have him in my life that I now need to adjust to the idea of not being alone in my old age, God willing.

Working and Cancer

This new normal also makes me the architect of my future.

I thought I was on one path or plan to be a local teacher when I realized that no way is that right for me. I am someone who was making a lot of my decisions based on the needs of others and I had to sharply realize that living that way is not living. I had to look long and hard at me and say, “What is it that I want?” and after a long time of never putting me first, I had to learn how to do that. It is not an easy transition. I think, in a way, it is almost easier to live with the expectations and wishes of others giving you the path you follow. When you step up for yourself and say, “No, I want THIS path instead.” it means it is all on you. So anything I do from here on out is on ME and me alone. It is a bit scary.

I took that cancer diagnosis and tried to use it as a chisel, I guess, to get me to the best ME I can be but I will never thank cancer for that or anything. Cancer sucks and I have said over and over again that I wish I never got it. But I did and now I have to learn to live not just as a cancer patient but as a human being as ME as uniquely me.

I am unemployed, having lost my job after my last chemotherapy infusion in May 2017 and I am taking these “lessons” on how to live post cancer and trying to incorporate it all into my new “normal”. I will always have pain and I will always look a bit like a Monster High doll with jagged scar and the like but I can still be a contributing member of society and hey actually maybe get a steady paycheck again. Losing our jobs, our abilities, our health is all just a part of what cancer does to us. There are parts of my brain that will never be “normal” again – the old me could handle complex layers of decision making and speaking and thinking on my feet that during chemotherapy I realized was gone and I am just now brave enough to see if I have any of it left.

How I Can Help Others…

Filing to be a non profit to help cancer patients get back to work with free resumes and interview help.

I use blogging and sharing my story to keep myself as much in “fighting form” as I can and to really exercise my brain I am offering my resume creation/editing and interview help (over 20 years of it -see www.thenextstep1234.com) to other people who have gone through cancer for FREE. I am interested in helping you get work ready again and can be reached via email or check out my website.

This is what I do in the time between. No one knows what the future will bring but for me, I hope to try to use this cancer experience to help other people get ready to get back to “normal” or their new normal of being back in the workforce if they can and are able to work.

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