Embracing our new normal after cancer
Updated: May 1, 2019
No matter what kind of cancer you were diagnosed with, cancer treatment can really take its toll on your body, both physically and mentally. Embracing our "new normal” is key in helping us live well beyond cancer. But, HOW do we get there?
Cancer as a chronic disease
We used to think of cancer as a one-time event. Nowadays, cancer can be closely watched and treated, but sometimes it never completely goes away.
According to the American Cancer Society, certain cancer types such as ovarian cancer, chronic leukemias, and some lymphomas can feel like ongoing illnesses. Some cancers, such as metastatic breast or prostate cancer, can also spread to other parts of the body and become chronic cancers.
Besides, the aftermaths caused by cancer treatment - such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy - can persist for years after treatment, giving birth to "our new normal".
Acceptance: the path of least resistance
We must accept the end of something in order to begin something new.
Each of us may have a different experience of life after a cancer diagnosis. Susan, our Girls Rocking Cancer Ambassador this week, shares her story:
I began my journey a year ago not knowing what I didn’t know. I was diagnosed with vulvar cancer yet had never been sick in my life. Woman are stronger than we know. Keep up the fight and stay positive. The new normal is all we have. And it’s worth fighting for.
Resistance brings pain. The more we embrace our new normal, the more we create space for a deep and beautiful transformation to emerge. To me, embracing my new normal after cancer has meant rediscovering my womanhood, accepting that I may never be a mum, and learning how to live with an autoimmune disorder that will forever change the way I live my life - every single day.
Embracing my new normal
This is hard to say out loud but the first person I called when receiving my cancer diagnosis was: MY BOSS! Not my mum, not my brother, not my best friend... my boss! My mind was so focused on work that my first thought was: sh!t who will take over my tradeshow this week. Crazy eh!
Don't get me wrong, I don’t make any apologies for the choices I made or for taking pride in my work - but today, I live for what makes me happy. Before my diagnosis, I’d often start my sentences with “when”. I’ll have a baby when my career is established, when my husband's business is profitable, when we’ve paid the mortgage, when, when, when. That day never happened.
Today, I find joy in work that is meaningful to me AND I have learnt to be more present in my relationships. Although learning to live well beyond cancer is a challenge, I can barely remember what my "old normal" felt like. As humans, we adapt, we overcome.
Here are the 5 things I love the most about my new normal:
I'm more present in my relationships
I'm more self aware
I'm living my purpose
I'm living in the here and now
I have more perspective (I don't tend to sweat the small stuff as much!)
Breaking the pattern
Lately, I’ve realised that as humans we tend to have this mental blueprint of what our life is supposed to look like: our beliefs, our values, our perception of ourselves and that of the world around us. Here's my take on the top 3 ways to create a new blueprint.
1. Create a love ritual with your body
When I hear women speak of their experience with cancer, I often hear a sense of loss: loss of the old self, loss of this vision of life as it once was. In embracing “the new you”, I believe it is helpful to take time to feel your body - give it compassion and kindness.
I used to kiss my weak leg. I told her I love her, that she was still of service, and that I was grateful to her.
That's my mum, a post polio survivor and a strong woman who taught me how to live well with the limitations of my body (read the full story). Your words matter. Using kind and loving words as part of a daily ritual can help you reconnect with your body. My ritual also includes a weekly massage, as I find the touch both nurturing and healing.
2. Bust a move
It is Tony Robbins who said:
If you want to change your state, change your physiology.
Using movement is the quickest way to change how you feel. If you find yourself feeling blue or stuck in a bad place, try standing up, taking a walk, or just dancing yourself silly in your living room! Obviously, talk to your doctor and take care post surgery but I know plenty of active chemo patients who go to the gym or go for a swim as a way to release endorphins (the pleasure hormone) and avoid muscle atrophy.
Personally, I dig yoga. When I practice yoga, I feel free. I feel as if I'm in control of my own body. Yoga helps me to feel connected and breathe through my pain, which often makes chronic pain more manageable.
3. Go on a path of self discovery
The best way to deal with a crisis is to feed your mind.
Before cancer I was living the corporate life. Fast forward six years and I find myself attending fundraisers and doing a PhD on sexuality after gynaecological cancer! I'd never have pictured myself as a cancer researcher in a thousand years, yet here I am.
You are here today. Enjoy yourself.
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