At 36 years old, a part-time single mom of two young children, the last thing Randalynn saw coming was a cancer diagnosis, let alone one with “ovarian” in front of it. Knowing she would have been doing women a lot of injustice if she didn’t use her voice to tell her story and create awareness around this deadly disease that whispers, she has used social media and her blog as a platform to do both things, along with creating a sense of community for ovarian cancer survivors around the globe.
Treatment is Over. Now What? Managing Your New Normal
I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with a new word for “normal” – it’s such a cliché word because for each of us, it’s different. Prior to being diagnosed, none of us had the same definition of what this looked like. After diagnosis we still won’t have the same new “normal”, because we’re each unique in our own way, and we’ve all been affected in different ways. Yet so many of us focus on how nothing is normal and fear that nothing will ever be this so-called normal again – I get it, I do this too. But what if we looked at this in a different way, uniquely made it ours and owned it…no matter how angry it may make us from time to time?
Unfortunately for us cancer survivors, the reality is that what we consider “normal,” others see as so far from remotely resembling anything like that at all – and for their sake, I hope that remains the case. So how do we accept what this new “normal” looks like, and even better, how do we make it something we can manage and own?
- Our normal is so far out of the box when it comes to what many consider falling into that bucket. – Being injected with dye, stuck with needles more times than one person should have to be, enduring multiple surgeries, walking into a hospital without batting an eye, receiving one form of treatment or another, and the list goes on and on, is the reality of what is 210% normal for cancer survivors, no matter how badly we may not want to have to do these things. I no longer think twice about walking into the hospital, visiting my doctor every three months for blood work and some type of scan. Do I like it? Heck no! Does it scare the crap out of me more times than not? Absolutely! BUT, this is my normal…and I’m fairly sure the nonchalant manner in which I state, “I’ll be back, have a CT scan” catches some by surprise. I think once we can accept this – the being so far from normal part – it all starts to become a little bit more acceptable (notice I didn’t say easier!). For quite some time to come, all of this is going to be a part of my life. At this moment in time, I know what the plan looks like for the next five years, and then I’ll go from there, and there’s a chance that the path may change.
- Learning to bob and weave with the ever changing times that come along with this – This new normal is not always consistent. Sometimes you’ve got to literally go with the flow or it all becomes too overwhelming. Accepting that you will have to modify/adapt from time to time as things change is just reality. Right after I completed treatment, I had a couple of speed bumps that weren’t expected, which required a few additional procedures, which then required me to need a few more occupational therapy visits to learn how to manage new issues I wasn’t experiencing prior. Frustrating, yes. Manageable, yes. Time consuming…umm, yes! The thing to focus on here is that in one way or another, we can find a way to manage the changes, even though we may not want to.
- Owning what your normal is – for me, due to chronic lymphedema (which means it will not go away, because I’m not going to be gaining any lymph nodes in the near future; once gone, they’re gone) there are certain garments I need to wear and things I need to do daily. Sometimes it means not exactly getting to wear the most attractive things. So I own this. I don’t necessarily like it, but I do what’s needed. Instead of wearing old lady compression socks, I got tie-dye ones with bright colors –since people are going to look, I might as well give them something fun to look at! Instead of getting regular custom fit compression pants, mine have stars on them – first time they’ve had a patient order them!
- Own your new normal – hold your head up high, and get things that resemble your unique style/personality. Don’t “cover” things up. It makes it not only uncomfortable for you, but those around you as well. And let’s be honest – I have more scars than I’d like, and I bare them without hesitation. Do people look? ABSOLUTELY! Do they whisper? Yes! Do I care? Nope! Wanna know why? Because someone else out there needs to see that they too can heal. That their “scars” don’t define them and shouldn’t keep them from wearing or doing whatever it is they may want to do.
- Laugh/Cry/Be Angry – The easiest thing for most of us to do is either laugh or cry, and sometimes you’ll do both at the same time. More times than not, we laugh because if we didn’t, we’d cry at how absolutely crazy our lives seem. And listen to me when I say that this is completely normal given the circumstances that have been thrown our way. You’re going to have a bad day here and there. It’s part of the new “normal.” It’s acceptable. Actually, it’s BEYOND ACCEPTABLE! And there are times when you are going to be angry as well. Be angry. If you weren’t, some might question your sanity, to be honest. So laugh your deep down belly laughs, cry on your bathroom floor when needed, and be angry from time to time (please, don’t pitch a tent and stay in this mode though) – this is all a part of the “new” normal.
And as time passes and you’re longer out from your diagnosis, from time to time you’ll actually see a life that resembles what you once remember. Pay attention, and you’ll notice. It creeps in when you least expect, and a small innocent smile will come across your face. Your routines will turn into something you’re accustomed to, just like you were in the past, and your laugh will sound like what you once remember, yet many things will still be so extremely different-- from the smallest of things like your hair, to the greatest of things, due to the parts and pieces you may no longer have. One or two things will be better than before, or at least it is for me – you’ll have the biggest smile; you will be able to tell the difference and others will too. Your perspective on life will be forever changed. You won’t take things for granted, you’ll learn to actually live in the now because of the diagnosis you’ve been dealt, and you’ll learn to let things go that aren’t really that important. Things will roll off. You’ll pick your battles because it’s just not worth it; if I’ve picked a “battle” with you, you’ll know it’s because I care very deeply about the subject matter at hand.
So although a cancer survivor’s definition of “normal” is a bit different from that of someone who’s never faced their mortality, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s awful. It will take time to adjust. I’m still not all the way there. You’ll need to learn to ebb and flow with the changes as they come along, because just when you’ve gotten use to the way things were going, something always seems to pop up. Whatever your “normal” looks like – own it, own the crap out of it, no matter how difficult it may be from time to time! And grant yourself some grace when it comes to bad days. They happen, It’s part of the process, it’s part of the new “norm.” No one should expect you to be strong, positive and fearless all the time. That’s not normal for anyone. By management and acceptance, along with time, you’ll start to see that this new “normal,” although not normal at all, is actually uniquely normal to you and those around you.