Normal. My college friends and I, imagining ourselves as decidedly worldly, often declared that “nice is not enough,” meaning that people needed to be interesting, edgy, neurotic even to really be worth knowing. Believing that normal is overrated would probably be the updated analog. Who wants to be normal in a culture that prizes speaking up and standing out? Well, um, me.
Having cancer has made normal intoxicating, rare, special. Normal means I spend my weekend planning bike rides and putting off yard work instead of thinking about cancer. Normal means I talk to the kids all the time, but not about my cancer. Normal means I’m not in pain from surgery, rashy from radiation, or feeling turned inside out because Tamoxifen. Normal means life without cancer.
Of course the cancer hasn’t completely left my mind—I take Tamoxifen every day so I can’t say that I’m done with cancer or cancer treatment. And I will have my follow-up mammogram in August, a follow-up appointment with the surgeon (actually, his PA) in October, and a follow-up appointment with the medical oncologist in November. But why think about any of that until the dates arrive? If my cancer diagnosis taught me anything worthwhile, it would probably be that I now truly understand that worry does absolutely no good. Life happens despite our anticipations, hedges, or attempts to bargain for something better, because that’s normal, too—the unexpected.
The cancer diagnosis was unexpected. How could it be otherwise? But then cancer became normal, or at least took the place of so much of my normal life that I then had to find a way back to my true normal.
And right now I’m at the beginning of that effort. I feel the texture of normal in my life, which is to say I feel the absence of the fear of cancer. To be in the present and not be afraid—I think that that’s where normal starts.