Getting back to normal life after cancer requires more effort and thought than I anticipated. We’re all familiar with the idea of the “new normal,” a phrase that first made sense to me after our son was born in 1996. But in that case the new normal was about adjusting to a welcome, although quite disruptive, change in our lives. There is nothing “welcome” about cancer.
I made some decisions to help myself along in the return to normal. I wanted to live more of my life offline this year so I deactivated my Facebook account in January. I will come back to it eventually, but for now I like the mental quiet that being away from it provides. I’m still on twitter, and am trying to figure out how to use it for news and updates without feeling overwhelmed by its never-ceasing stream of information.
A big decision I made was to postpone my return to clinical work for at least several months. I actually resigned my position and turned in my computer and my equipment. I am welcome back at any time, and sometimes feel antsy to return. But then I have a day when I get slammed by the fatigue that I associate with Tamoxifen, and am so glad that I do not have to battle that fatigue while also caring for the dying.
The decision about work really came down to wanting to only have one job for awhile and I chose writing. It’s confusing, because I’m the kind of person who in the past has always gained energy from bouncing one part of my life off another: writing-clinical work-motherhood-activism-public speaking. I wonder if cancer is what I’m bouncing off of now. It certainly seems that way physically, and emotionally and intellectually, too, I guess. I hate to use cliches, but the best way to explain it is to say that cancer casts a long shadow. There are times when I escape it, when I stand in the light and am so glad to be alive. But then something reminds me: the fatigue, the stiffness in my right shoulder that comes and goes, my off-and-on inability to control how hot or cold I feel, the odd effect of wine no longer tasting good to me. All that, I guess, is the new normal, and a good friend who’s an oncology nurse practitioner told me it just takes times to adjust.
So, we went hiking on the Appalachian Trail for a couple days last week (it was Pitt’s spring break). I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my husband and daughters, but the first day we covered ten miles, and the second day we did six, and I was fine. It was hard, but I did it, and felt good afterwards. Maybe that’s the secret to the new normal: it’s hard, but you do it anyway, one foot in front of the other, over and over again. I stopped to catch my breath on uphills, complained when my feet hurt, and felt unpleasantly buffeted by the unexpected West Virginia cold, but I kept going, until, one step after another, the hike was done, and I was ready for another new day.