The concept of “new normal” – this is a pretty common phrase in the cancer world about the new normal a person experiences when treatment is over. I could talk about what a person may typically face in those first few months both physically and emotionally as they adjust to this life-changing experience they’ve just had and that they aren’t alone in feeling confused and lost
There is no “normal” cancer journey or experience, everyone’s journey is unique to them and the disease they have. The same could be said, really, of any chronic illness that a person faces. Of course, there’s going to be similar issues that people may face, similar landmarks that we may encounter. But ultimately the idea of a “normal journey” doesn’t really exist, no matter what way we cut it.
But surely the idea of normalcy applies once we’ve completed treatment for our cancer, right? Not necessarily.
When you receive a cancer diagnosis it goes without saying that your current reality is going to change. You’ll be faced with a multitude of decisions that you’ll need to make: what sort of treatment options will you go with? Will you keep working or going to school? What sort of support will you need during treatment?
Due to the uncertainty our minds often focus on the day to day, on the upcoming surgery or treatments ahead, it focuses on the here and now because we’re not sure what tomorrow will bring.
When treatment is over however, some people experience a mix of emotions: a sense of relief and joy that this huge and often difficult experience is over. But also a sense of dread at this new and unknown landscape. What do I mean by that?
Well, you’ve finished treatment, it’s over. Back to normal! Right? Well, maybe not…When treatment is over and everything is “said and done” it’s not as simple as some people think to just go back to the way things were. For starters, our bodies are recovering from treatment and we may experience a multitude of side-effects. Fatigue, for example, is a very common side-effect and one that just doesn’t simply go away when we get more sleep. There are also a lot of other physical side-effects that could occur based on the sort of treatment that you’ve had. These side-effects aren’t like a light switch and don’t just immediately dissipate with your last day of treatment. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes our friends and family members assume that now that the “hard part” is over things will automatically just shift right back.
And what about those mix of emotions I mentioned? It’s very common to feel a little lost after treatment. It can feel a little bit like you’re a warrior without a war. This often surprises people as they were expecting to feel a sense of relief and to just fall back into their old routines. But often you can’t simply just “go back to the way things were”. You’ve experienced something truly life-changing and it affects how you interact with the world and with your friends and family.
This time of transition is quite common, and it doesn’t make you ungrateful to reflect on the experiences you’ve had and wonder how you’ll move forward. Just like every cancer journey is unique so is the transition to your new normal after treatment ends.
This new normal may include you taking extra time to care for yourself as your body is still adjusting to the effects of treatment. This new normal could mean needing more time in between social visits due to fatigue. It could mean going back to work but only at a part-time capacity for awhile.
Ultimately, the idea of a “new normal” simply means that you are allowing yourself to take the time necessary to adjust both physically and emotionally to the experience you’ve had.
This time period may seem overwhelming, even a little frustrating, at first. But your new normal will fall into place and you’ll begin to feel comfortable navigating this new experience. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that not knowing exactly how you feel right now, or how you want to proceed doesn’t make you ungrateful, or strange. There are a lot of supports out there for individuals who have recently completed treatment and I strongly encourage you to look up what’s available in your particular region.