“The New Normal”
There are a few terms that I have struggled with since supporting my daughter Adrienne through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. For example, I have written about how “No Evidence of Disease” doesn’t mean that there isn’t any, it just means they can’t see any, so I add “Today” to the end of that term (NED-T), and that allows me to celebrate each day a little bit more. Another, which I used to fully embrace, is that “everything happens for a reason.” There is no reason for my child getting cancer, no contribution to the greater good, no epiphanies about life. A lousy thing happened to her… Period. And don’t even get me started on clichés like, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “time heals all wounds.”
But the one I am struggling with right now is a little trickier because while it may represent the reality of change for young women after a breast cancer diagnosis it is just so… “Patronizing” is one word that comes to mind. It asks the cancer patient to close the book, to accept without rancor, to move on regardless of the impact the diagnosis and treatment has had on the mind and body.
And that term is “The New Normal.”
Normal is how my child felt before cancer. Looking at a future without limitations, thinking the world is your oyster, owning a life full of joy and occasional abandon… That’s normal when you’re twenty-seven. I will admit that becoming a mother means you will worry for the rest of your life, so I can’t say I didn’t fret about my girl before her cancer diagnosis, but they were worries like her getting enough sleep, not working too hard, having her heart broken… That’s “normal” when you’re the mother of a twenty-something young woman.
There is nothing normal about either of our lives now.
My child has to filter almost all of her life decisions through the cancer lens. Where she lives needs to have a facility nearby that can perform all the scans and tests she’ll need for the rest of her life and in the worst-case scenario have a cancer treatment centre as well. Where she works has to be able to accommodate the multitude of appointments she has to attend on a regular basis. How she travels has to factor in how lymphedema and the lasting fatigue she feels may limit how far she can drive in a day. Looking at having a child means negotiating how much time she can be off of ovarian suppression drugs to try to get pregnant all the while not knowing if her body will kick into gear to allow her to conceive at all.
On top of all the normal worries I have as a mother, now I sit by the phone anxiously waiting to hear test results and summaries of medical appointments. I suppress the fear of her coming off the only medication she is taking to keep the cancer from coming back because I know it’s something she desperately wants. I prepare myself to hold her hand if the news isn’t what we want it to be, all the while doing my best to quiet the voices in my head that still scream that this can’t be happening to my baby.
So here is what I would like all the people who work with young cancer patients and their supporters to contemplate. It’s possible that there is no such thing as the “New Normal.” My experience is that it’s rather a lifetime of adjustments that must be made. Instead of feeling like they must be doing something wrong because they are struggling to accept all the radical changes that come with being diagnosed with breast cancer when you’re much too young, these women need to hear that it’s okay to feel frustrated, to be angry, to howl at the moon. Their loved ones need to hear that seeing their loved ones struggle weeks, months and years from diagnosis and treatment is to be understood and expected. Instead of telling young women that this is their “New Normal,” the line should be: “You’ll be living a life adjusted.”
I think that would help a lot when you know you’ll never feel any kind of normal ever, ever again.
Mother…Grandmother…Librarian…Military Spouse…Caregiver…Family Life Educator…take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California. She has been married for 36 years to a Canadian Air Force Veteran and credits him with filling her life with adventure. When Debbie Legault’s children look at family photos they often comment on how many different hairstyles she has had and that pretty much is her story, that her life has taken as many turns and led her down as many paths as her hair has changed! Her latest role is as the author of Mom…It’s Cancer, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter, Adrienne, as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.