What Will My New Normal Be?

Last month, I decided to start getting weekly massages to help relieve stress now that chemo and radiation is done. I wanted to treat myself. I met my new massage therapist and told her about my cancer and that I just finished treatment. She said, “Congratulations on being cancer free.” I was immediately shocked because I don’t know if I’m cancer free. Maybe I am. I didn’t want to correct her, so I reluctantly said, “Thank you” and gave a half smile. Just because I’m done with chemo and radiation, I really have no idea if the cancer is all gone. Maybe there is one reluctant cancer cell roaming around in my body. As if it’s laughing at me and hiding out, like a cockroach from a Raid commercial that won’t die. Did the chemo work? Did radiation work? I sure hope so, but I still can’t stop thinking about that one cancer cell that just won’t go away. Am I going to live the rest of my life thinking about my cancer returning? Everyone one says to “Stay positive, don’t think negative thoughts.” But I think it’s impossible. 

My husband’s coworker had breast cancer a few years ago and told him that post treatment can be harder to deal with than actual treatment. She told him about a book titled After Cancer Care by Gerald Lemole MD, Pallav Mehta, MD and Dwight McKee, MD. He brought it home from work and I was thankful and excited to read it. I was hoping there was a magic answer on how I should live now that treatment has ended. I remember even thinking that this book would have all the answers and I would be perfectly fine after reading it. Well, that didn’t work. The book is great, and I did learn a lot, but there is no magic in it. The chapter on avoiding toxins really caught my attention. I was reading it in the middle of the night (because I always have trouble sleeping through the night) and started crying because I was so overwhelmed. “How the heck am I going to avoid every toxin listed in this book? I’m going to have to change everything I do from now on.” But I kept reading and realized that I could make a few lifestyle changes. I started to look at all the cleaning, beauty, and personal care products I use and decided to purchase new toxin free products as they ran out. I couldn’t afford to just throw everything away and start fresh, but it was a good start. I was proud of this life change because I felt a little bit in control of my health. Crossing my fingers that my new natural deodorant works. Haha.

However, there is one very odd feeling I have now that treatment is done. It’s almost embarrassing to admit so hopefully I’m not alone. I really liked having everyone take care of me. I received so much attention, gifts, meals, and prayer cards from so many people. And then it just stops. I’ve always been a strong independent woman, but it was kind of nice having others take care of me. My husband would make me a grilled cheese sandwich in bed on the days after chemo when I felt sick, and it was such a sweet gesture and made me feel so special. I’m better now, not sick anymore and I’m back to being that strong independent woman. But I kind of want someone to make me a grilled cheese every once in a while. 

It’s been 5 months since my last treatment and some days I feel great and some days I feel very low and alone. Sometimes I feel like a “regular person” that doesn’t have cancer and other days I feel like a freak with short hair. I know time heals everything and I have a great support circle of family and friends and I’m eager to find out what my new normal will be. — Kristine Carlew


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