Mukherjee, author of the Emperor of all Maladies, had a patient that exclaimed her life after cancer was all about adjusting to a new normal. There is definitely something to be said for that. I am nowhere near remission (as far as I know), but my current state of living a ‘normal’ life with my cancer (in a cohabiting sense) is an adjustment. Cohabiting with anyone is an adjustment and my cancer and I often argue about who gets first dibs on time. Unfortunately, my cancer often wins by default because most of my appointments are non-negotiable, whether they are treatments or otherwise. I have to admit I find my cancer’s selfishness absolutely annoying, especially when it interrupts a perfectly lovely day to go get poked and prodded instead. Although, I can’t complain too much because at this juncture my cancer is somewhat lest demanding then when we first got together (Boston every three weeks until June, when it becomes every other week). But I suppose that happens, that you learn to adjust, to compromise, and to accommodate each other over time. It’s just like any relationship, in the beginning it seems all consuming but as time progresses you learn exactly how to coexist. Now my relationship with my cancer is obviously dysfunctional, I have to make it work and thus adapt to my new normal.
In addition from lobbying for time with my demanding cancerous partner, I also have to adjust to the little everyday things that come with this relationship. In any relationship there is generally some consideration for your appearance. In my mind I have always been fashion conscious, so that hasn’t changed but my overall appearance certainly has. My cancer forced me to go all Britney Spears during her crazy phase and now it has given me a whole new look. Pre- cancer I had light brown pin straight thin hair and suddenly I have very dark brown ashy wavy course hair that I have no idea how to style. It’s like relearning how to handle your own hair. So now I’m in a phase of trying out new products that I never needed before like styling paste and volumizing mousse and curl control shampoo. Steph always claims it took her nearly thirty years to get the right product and styling down, which means I’ll be in this phase for awhile. I also enjoy headbands like never before, they somehow make my short hair style full of cowlicks and unruly behavior somewhat more manageable. So my new normal also includes a fairly extensive headband collection, they’ll go great with my hundreds of scarves. I also have to be uber conscious about my skin regiment; moisturizers, vitamin e cream, sunscreen, etc. Hodgkin’s creates skin issues as do most of the treatments, so skin care is both a necessity and a process. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many products which add time to both my morning and evening routine. Aside from hair and skin care, my cancer has done very little to impact my overall appearance unless you consider the scaring from my biopsy sites and port and permanent tan on the back of my neck from radiation, but I only notice them when I notice someone else inadvertently staring at them. In other words, they are just part of my new normal.
Now I can acknowledge that prior to my cancer I wasn’t exactly ‘fit’ but I wasn’t exactly out of shape entirely either. I had been an athlete in high school, albeit not a very good one. But still an athlete. And in the months leading up to my cancer diagnosis and the affirmation of our cohabitation, I started noticing how difficult it was to walk up a single flight of stairs. And now after a year plus of treatments my new normal generally consists of taking the elevator when the option is available or reenacting my role as the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare fable. Now I know that slow and steady wins the race, but i will admit I’ve never been all that patient. So I have to rebuild muscle strength and that is going to be a long and slow process. I have been told that the extent of my ‘training’ can only be a 20 minute daily walk to start. I know that is reasonable, but when I set my mind to something I like to go all in so the restraint elements of this are tricky for me. So my new normal has also forced me into a slow and steady pace, but also recognizing the need to make life changes in regard to exercise and food. The food piece has been a learning curve. I ordered cookbooks and pinned a bazillion recipes on organic whole food eating. I stopped grocery shopping and had an organic delivery service bring food to me to help minimize processed foods. I drink a smoothie every morning with vegetable, fruits, superfoods, ginger, tumeric. It has been a whole new way of looking at my diet. This is not a fad but a necessary lifestyle change, so I can keep my cancer from taking up more of my space and time. And I know that these pieces will be part of my new normal even after my cancer.
My new normal looks a lot like my old normal in ways too. I still go to work every day (unless it’s a treatment day). I still have dinner and drinks with friends. I still binge watch Netflix and lounge on the couch. I still spend any chance I get outside with Jax when the weather is conducive. I spend quality time with my boyfriend doing silly things and just enjoying our ‘unexpected’ relationship. The only way my cancer has altered any of this is that I appreciate all of it so much more. So my new normal in some ways is better than my old normal. And once you’ve lived with cancer you can never go back to who you were without it!