The first time I ever heard someone use the phrase “New Normal” was from my bff Maureen O’Connor. It came up in a conversation in her kitchen — where she always enslaves me until I whip up something delicious.
“Everybody’s ‘normal’ is different,” she said. “Look around at all the people, all the families you know. What’s normal for them might not be normal for you.”
Then she went on to note that not only is there a very broad definition for the word “normal,” but when things change in our lives, we’re off to a “New Normal” — maybe for just a while, perhaps permanently.
Maureen has always been one of those people with the gift of wisdom and the ability to step outside of herself or someone else’s situation and truly see it for what it is. That’s what I was thinking about yesterday, during the Monday visit with my oncologist that always preceeds my next round of chemo. Round 6 begins today.
I always have the same question, to which no one, save God, has the answer. When will I be done with chemo?
Best estimate as of yesteday’s visit? Somewhere between August 1 and November 1. Those are the six and nine-month markers. Maybe. It depends. Every single cancer patient is different. Each and every one of us responds to treatment in unique and unpredictable ways. No one can say whether I’ll be one of the lucky ones who goes into total remission, or if I’ll have partial remission, or perhaps I’ll continue living with my disease, arrested in its current state. No one knows until we get from here to there.
Which has been driving me crazy. Because I’m a total micro-manager (my hubby’s nickname for me is Micro; I kid you not) and I’m not particularly fond of surprises. I want to know.
I have this in common with my cousin Christine, who was with me at yesterday’s appointment. She totally “gets” me.
“I hate that there’s no end date for my chemo,” I said as we were sitting in the exam room.
“There is an end date,” she said. “We just don’t know what it is.”
She must have been a pupil along with my friend Maureen at the School for the Wise. (I’d love to find that place myself, but they refuse to divulge its location.)
She’s right. There is indeed an end date. We just don’t know what it is. And wishing for that little piece of information, focusing on it with the intensity of a magnifying glass over a small bug on a hot and sunny summer’s day, isn’t going to give me my answer. It’ll only feed my anxiety.
So, last night, as I looked around at the friends and neighbors who filled our home, I made the decision to Settle Down and Settle In. It may have been 48 degrees outside, but we were having a barbeque anyway. We threw steaks on the grill, boiled corn, sliced watermelon. We ate the most scrumptious, fluffly white cake topped with homemade whipped cream and a raspberry puree concocted by my French neighbor and bff Alice, who can turn anything culinary into pure magic.
I looked around at all that is, right here, right now. My disease is not progressing. In fact, it seems to be shrinking. But I’m going to stop obsessing about that right now and Settle In for however long it’s going to take to get me from here to there. I’m going to turn my focus to all of the things I can do and enjoy in my life.
I’m still going to enjoy life’s barbeques, despite the cold front that’s moved into my life for now. Chemo is no picnic, but that doesn’t mean that my life around it can’t be.
If this is my “New Normal,” I can live with that for a while, forever if I must. In fact, I am living with that. And I’m learning how to do it quite happily.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson