April Tegeler was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38 and is now quickly approaching her 3rd anniversary of completing her treatment. Here she shares with us her journey of finding her “new normal”…
January marks my three year anniversary from breast cancer. It seems so close but so far away, all at the same time. Even though three years seems like ample time to settle back into life, I still have an underlying sense of craving normalcy. I wonder if it is something you ever really stop searching for as a cancer survivor.
As a breast cancer survivor, I was forced to reinvent myself in more ways than one. The most obvious way is physically, a new body means new clothes and new shell of reality. The second way and less conspicuous but perhaps more important is emotionally. It takes a while to wrap your mind around the fact that you will be a forever changed person. In a way, it plays tricks on you and makes you think if I am changed this much on the outside, I must be changed on the inside too.
After diagnosis, things move pretty quickly and it can get overwhelming. After the initial plan sets in, things start to fall into place and the motion eventually dissipates. This can be the hardest part because you feel like you should be settling into normalcy but in actuality you are just beginning a new journey in life. What could be more unsettling than that!
Even years out I am still searching for the time where I am not subconsciously thinking about having a normal day.
After my initial surgery, I used to inwardly chuckle when people would approach me asking if I was all done with treatment. People who aren’t touched by the disease don’t always realize what a lengthy process it can be both emotionally and physically. While I appreciated their concern with a smile and a knowing nod I also wanted to laugh and say, “I am only just beginning”!
I think craving is an appropriate word to use when talking about a breast cancer survivor’s “new normal”. It is a fact finding mission of sorts where it is constantly changing and evolving into something where we finally feel comfort and peace. A place where we can finally say, “Hey, I think I found my new normal”. But until you find that comfy zone, you continually crave the normalcy that you once had in your pre-cancer life.
Your new normal can often be redefining to caregivers, family and friends because it inadvertently spills over into their pre- normal state too. Consequently, they must evolve and find a new normal that is dependent on yours. It is all intertwined.
Right after my surgery, I had some concerns and I called my doctor saying that I just wasn’t sure if everything was right because I hadn’t defined for myself what my “new normal” was yet. Funny, I had never even heard this term before but that is what it felt like for me. Later, I learned that this is a popular term used by breast cancer women after diagnosis. It couldn’t be more true.
Through life, whether you are a cancer survivor or not, we are always evolving as people. How many people change careers multiple times during their working careers? Or change partners because they have drifted apart or have just changed as people during their course of their relationship. It is a natural progression in life. Why shouldn’t it happen when you experience a traumatic life event such as a cancer diagnosis? It is disguised as a traumatic response but in actuality is truly a natural progression of life brought on unexpectedly by unforeseen life events. Therefore, craving normalcy and redefining your “new normal” becomes…well- normal.