What ‘New Normal’ Means to Me
Rethink is honoured to be the guest editor for Wildfire Magazine’s Identity and Aftermath August issue, which is dedicated to highlighting the struggles of life after cancer diagnosis.
Here is Javacia’s story.
I’m a machine. That was my answer whenever people would ask me how I do it all.
For nearly 10 years I juggled a full-time job as a high-school English teacher with a freelance writing career and a blog that I turned into a business.
I loved the hustle. And I felt I had a good life. Despite my busy schedule, I made time for daily workouts, date nights with my husband, brunch with my girlfriends, and even “Self-Care Saturday.”
But most days I was surviving on 4 to 6 hours of sleep. Sometimes I’d get so busy I’d forget to eat and then binge once I remembered. But I can handle it, I would tell myself. I’m a machine.
Then on January 24, 2020, the gears of the machine came screeching to a halt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Now that I’m in active cancer treatment, my workdays are short and I take several breaks because the simplest of tasks make me tired. My heart can’t handle any of my favorite high-intensity workouts. Because of the threat of COVID-19, I can’t hang out with friends at my favorite restaurants. My husband can’t take me to the movies.
I’m a full-time freelance writer now so I’m home all day, every day. And quite frankly I’m bored.
This is my new normal and I don’t like it. But I know I need it.
I know now I am not a machine.
Thanks to my new normal I sleep 8 to 10 hours every night. I pay close attention to my body to know what and when to eat. My workouts are gentle – daily walks through my neighborhood to help clear my mind.
Because of my new normal, I’m forced to do the things I should have been doing all along to give my body and myself the love that we deserve. – Javacia Harris Bowser
Here is Becky’s story.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
If this is true, that remains to be seen. Staring death in the face and enduring multiple surgeries, chemo, and radiation forced me to use tools I always had but didn’t know were there. I will draw on these skills more readily and with greater confidence in a future crisis, but I don’t feel any stronger. I was at work when I got the call to come in for my biopsy results. The nurse’s tone of voice told me that my worst fear had come true. I hung up the phone and immediately left my office. I still don’t know what became of the belongings I left at my desk, along with my former self. After meeting my surgeon, I went home to my four young daughters and breastfed my youngest for the last time. As my world fell apart, I fought to appear strong for my children. I didn’t break down in front of them, though the thought of leaving them without a mother terrified me.
Even though the side effects from chemo were unbearable, I still got up in the morning, helped them get ready for school and daycare, and kissed them goodbye. I got good at pretending to be strong, when in reality I had never felt so vulnerable. In truth, I cried silently when I went to the bathroom and lost it when I was home alone. I thought that made me weak but I no longer believe that strength is based on what happens in the moment. I value authenticity over trying to appear invincible. What happens in the aftermath, how you bounce back from a challenge, is the true test of strength. However, here’s the catch – I will never be the same again, so where do I go from here? – Becky Dahle
Here is Emily’s story.
Does anyone really want a ‘new normal’?
It is something that is forced on you after a breast cancer diagnosis. Us cancer survivors have seen things that can’t be unseen. We can’t go back to life before cancer. In order to move forward, I must accept my new normal. I’m tired ALL the time. My joints feel like I’m a 30-year-old stuck in an 80-year-old’s body. I have scars all over my body and no nipples. I can’t have a baby due to my high risk of recurrence (my oncologist doesn’t want me to pause the hormone therapy for another six years). I feel like the rest of the world thinks I’m ‘all better now’ but there are days that I still struggle (and then feel guilty for struggling because I have so much to be thankful for.)
But then there are the positives. Although I don’t wish to have this post-cancer body, I’m so proud of it. It suffered so much pain but always bounced back. I am more confident in my skin now than I ever was before cancer. It is liberating to know that I’ll never have that perfect body so I’m happy with this one. I have realized where my priorities are now and am learning so much about myself and what I want out of life. Sometimes this comes with a lot of pressure but I know that tomorrow is a whole new day with a new opportunity to be better than the last. Going through cancer was awful and I don’t wish it on anyone but cancer brought a lot of great things, opportunities, people and perspective into my life. – Emily Piercell