When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I recall my doctor saying, “You are having normal reactions. Normal fears. But I need you to start acting abnormally.”
I remember taking that on as a challenge. I can do this. And I did. For the most part, I believe I rocked chemo. I had the steam behind me and the support of hundreds to maintain optimistic and positive. I was authentically real with everyone when I presented myself as happy and driven to bust cancer out of my body. And all that, coupled with my faith, helped me feel empowered.
Post-chemo, I got sick and had a little dip in my energy but I still felt ready for surgery. And then. Surgery.
Surgery. I should have known surgery recovery would be hard for me. It is hard to be lazy. It is hard, as a human, to restrict yourself from regular things that your body regularly does. It is hard to watch others do for you. And it is hard to know that you are through two of the biggest hurdles. And that after only one more hurdle — radiation — you will be back to “normal.”
What does that even mean? Normal. I’ve been acting abnormal for as long as I can remember. I have never been a normal person. I’ve been loud. Obnoxious. A lover of life. An embracer of the small things. A feeler of music and emotion. A crazy girl, for all accounts. Abnormal was my normal.
And now I don’t know how to go back.
I feel like I have to grieve the situation that just happened. But it’s making me so confused.
I’ve been through the “hardest part.” For all intents and purposes, and in the eyes of others, I’ve been through the hardest parts of my journey mentally and physically. The chemo. The toxins in my body. I’ve been through surgery. I’m not emotional about my breasts being gone. And I’ve even heard the words “cancer free.” I’ve been told that radiation will be one of my “last steps.” And then, the five year wait until “remission” and “cured.” But I can’t. find. normal.
And that scares me.
I’m still supposed to be mommy. I’m still supposed to be strong. I’m still supposed to be a wife. A friend. A daughter. A sister.
And somedays, it’s hard enough to be me. To know who I am.
Not every day. Not every moment. But it’s hard to figure out how to be me without being scared. Being fearful of the unknown. How to get out of this funk — this thing called cancer. As a mom. A wife. A friend. A person with a totally blessful life.
I don’t know how to find all my joy. And I’m having a really hard time with that. It makes me feel so much less like myself. At times.
I know I can’t expect to just find normal. I have to seek it out. I have to look for it. One moment, I feel so grateful for even just being able to breathe – to even exist. And then the next, I’m terrified that it’s coming back. It’s crazy, I know and yes, in case you’re wanting to tell me, I am fully aware that worrying doesn’t actually help. Everyone, I think, feels like I should feel empowered. Excited. Like Super Woman. But really, I just feel like I’m still abnormal but in the wrong way, now.
A man, who was trying to be helpful the other day, typed, “Congrats – but don’t get complacent. My wife went through all of this eight years ago. We had two boys in the meantime. And now, her cancer is back. It’s stage 4 metastatic. It’s in her bones. And her liver.”
How do I even go try to go back to normal? How do I even try to get totally settled back into my old normal? How do I possibly try to let myself “get complacent” if it’s just going to come back?
What do we do when we deal with our own “cancers?” Maybe “your cancer” is abuse or divorce or financial problems or problems with your kids. Maybe you’re just in a funk and you don’t know why. But what are we to do?
We stop trying to find normal. We stop.
I am crying as I write this. I am full of emotions. I am fearful. And confused. And I find myself grasping for normal.
But normal can’t be what I continue to look for. What all of us who are dealing with these “cancers” are dealing with. We need to find the newness. We have to look for something different.
A new normal.
I knew the second I got diagnosed. I knew. Life would never go back to where it was. As I sat in that chemo chair each time – each and every time – I knew. As I prepared for surgery, I knew. I knew that these were chapters. Not just A chapter. The last 6 months I’ve added chapter(s) to my story. That is hard. Because I have to digest all of those words. All of those sentences. And figure out what comes next in the story.
First, I have to go through radiation. Because we gotta take care of business. And then. Then what do I do?
What are you to do when life goes all topsy turvy? When you turn the page and as they say, the book yells, “PLOT TWIST!” When you get into an unexpected accident – or you lose your job – or you find yourself questioning your path – how do you find your way back? Back to normal.
You don’t. Don’t waste your time trying to go back.
I’m not a therapist. I’m not a doctor. But you don’t try to go back. That’s what I’ve determined.
You don’t find your way back. You can’t re-write the story. You can’t tear out the pages. You just cannot.
You have to try to move forward. One step. Then another. Then another. Each day, you have to redo that. You have to wake up every single day and say, “I am choosing to step forward.” Because some days, you will be terrified of what’s in front of you. And so sometimes, you will take steps back. But you’re not going to actually go back. Ever. It will never be how it was before.
This is what I’m learning. This is what I’m seeing. What I feel daily.
I am learning that I can’t go back. I’m learning that on the days when I don’t know how to feel “normal” I need to remind myself that I’ve never been normal. And that God has a bigger plan ahead for me than anything I could possibly be thinking of for myself right now. Because he made me abnormally magnificent in the first place.
So what do you do? What do you do on the days where you want to lay in bed. Where you can’t see forward?
Yesterday, I called and texted friends. I told them my fears. I told my husband I was having a day. I told my Cancer girls I was having “the crazies.” I spent some time alone. On a couch. Crying. I wrote. I hugged my kids. I prayed. I reminded myself that I do get to write my story. At least a bit of it. Every day.
There will be hard days. There will be joyful days. There will be easy peasy days. And, of course, days that include a range of emotions. That’s life. But it’s up to me to make sure that no matter what, I’m processing all of that. It’s up to me to talk about it. To accept the emotions for what they really are. It’s up to me to keeeeeeep living.
If you are going through something – whether it’s one of the things I mentioned or some other personal battle, just know, you have more story to come. And as my therapist says, “Don’t write your own unhappy ending.” Embrace the great days. Process the hard moments. And continue to live through it all.
And someday – one day in the future – I believe you and I will find ourselves at this place we have never been before but feels familiar. And I believe that that point – that moment – will be what I will feel as more normal. And I look forward to knowing what that is. What it means. And how my life leads me to that point.
And I wish the very same for you. Screw normal. Embrace the crazy. And live your life. One step at a time.