Rachel is a 25-year-old Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma survivor who is in the process of really defining what "the new normal" really means.
Normal. What is normal? Miriam and Webster say normal is "conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural."
A high school student may say normal is going to school, going to sporting events and seeing friends. The man sitting across from me at Starbucks says normal is whatever is comfortable and familiar. To me, normal used to be defined by waking up, going to work, doing school work and seeing friends and family. I would spend my days living fairly carefree and having a good time. I had a decent job, was about to move and start an exciting chapter to my life.
But quickly after starting treatment for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, "normal" took on a whole new meaning. It turned to a rigid, rotating three-week schedule of doctor appointments, blood draws, scans, tests and chemotherapy. I went from having few true concerns about life to worrying if I would even have a life to care about for much longer. My new friends became the nurses and doctors I was now seeing more regularly than my lifelong friends. My chemo nurses knew all about my job changes, struggles with chemo and its side effects and regularly asked how life was going. I had to get used to the stares that now accompanied me everywhere I went and the looks of pure pity that someone my age could get such a terrible disease.
Now, after finishing treatment, "normal" has taken on yet another new meaning. I am back to the routine that I used to define as normal – waking up, going to work, doing school work, seeing friends and family. But I have a whole new perspective and it doesn't feel normal at all anymore.
I'm in this "new normal" stage that so many of us talk about. Where I am back to a "normal" routine, but I'm still trying to figure out how to cope with the diagnosis, how to manage relationships that have forever changed and how to cope with the sudden panic attacks from fear of recurrence. Those are the worst. I can be doing a normal daily activity when it hits me. If I get a little out of breath, or feel under the weather or wake up up from sleeping a little hot. What if my cancer is back? Are these symptoms of changes going on inside me? Should I call the doctor?
Learning to handle these moments and feelings is one of the hardest adjustments to this normal I now live in.
Fortunately, I can recognize that it's not all bad. I get to watch my hair grow back and take bets on what it will look like. Blonde or brunette? Curly or straight? I now have experienced something that many haven't and can relate to others on a new platform. I can make lifelong bonds with someone over what we have shared in our lives. I am able to provide perspective and guidance to a new member of this club no one wants to be a part of. Being able to help others with their diagnosis, treatment and remission is something I have developed a true passion for. No one should have to go through this alone or with questions unanswered and my new normal allows me to make that a reality.
Life will never be the same for me. I've lost friends, made new friends, strengthened relationships and changed my whole outlook on life on this journey to my new normal. Although some days are impossible, the benefits of being alive and seeing true joy in the world is worth more than any amount of "normalcy" could offer.
What is your definition of the new normal? Let us know in the comments below.