How Do I Define What's Normal After Cancer?

What is life in a post-cancer world? Do you ever get back to normal? What is the new normal?

"Now it's time to get back to normal."

You hear those words a lot once you get the "All clear" at the conclusion of your cancer treatment. Many people believe you're supposed to just pick up exactly where you were before you first heard the words "you have cancer." You head back to work and resume like it's just another Monday. Except it's not a normal Monday. It's a Monday from some sort of alternate universe that I like to call, Cancerverse.

For many of us, life isn't the same in the post-cancer world. Physically, you might be dealing with the after effects of chemotherapy or radiation. You might still be healing from a surgery or multiple surgeries. In my case, I was bald and twenty pounds lighter than where I had started. I kind of looked like a combination of Voldemort and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. When I returned to work, I could read what people thought just by the look in their eyes. I was almost unrecognizable for anyone who had worked with me prior to chemotherapy. It took months to gain the weight back and for the hair to grow back. (But when the hair did come back, I had a cool new fro).

The emotional effects were the trickiest to navigate through. True, you've defeated cancer and that is certainly reason enough to celebrate, But emotionally you're spent from just trying to stay alive. I know once I realized I was in the clear, I was ecstatic. If I was physically capable, I would have done a celebratory run around my cancer center. I think I might have made it twenty feet before getting winded.

I went through a period of second guessing my survival and I deeply questioned knowing why it was me that got cancer. Here I was alive with a clean bill of health, and I wasn't feeling it. Some people call that "survivor's guilt", and it's common. It's not something to feel guilty about either. Eventually I learned that this battle with cancer was my own battle. My battle was not the same as anyone else's and I learned not to compare myself with the others who have fought, who are fighting, or will fight cancer.

Coming to terms with my cancer battle within the grander scheme of life is something I'm still learning how to do. Before cancer my life was pretty simple. I was a father, I had been married for two years, and lived a life without drama. Today I'm worrying about ensuring I will be alive long enough to raise my son and take care of my family. While those things crossed my mind before I ever got sick, cancer brought them to the immediate forefront. I was always a hands-on father, but since receiving the "All Clear" I've been trying to pass on these life lessons to my six year old. I hope to have the time to teach him so he will understand.

At first, your new normal is a challenging, overwhelming task. It takes time to adjust to life post-cancer. People who haven't been through it might not understand what you're going through. It's difficult to fully understand what life is like after facing a life-threatening disease and coming back from it. Some might encourage you to head out and live life the way you did before. This advice comes from a good place, and is meant to help you out. However, you may not want to head out and embrace life right away, or have the desire to the things you did before cancer. That's perfectly fine as you re-adjust to life in a post-cancer world.

It took me a long time to realize that life starts again in a different way. It was perfectly "normal" that I wasn't the same person that I was before. I adjusted to my new normal on my own time and anyone who has gone through cancer will too.

How did you navigate your new normal?

Photo courtesy of Léa Dubedout.