Having cancer can change the word "normal" forever.
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician and a writer. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon.
"It has been years ago," I tell myself sometimes – 20 years to be exact – since I had cancer for the fourth and final time. So, what the heck is wrong with me now? Good question. I can't always put my finger on it, mentally anyway. But somehow, I believe that the constant stops and starts, the disappointed pauses in my life, as a result of cancer and everything that comes with it, has permanently changed my sense of "normal" and the contentment that can come with it.
In 2012, I started a corporate job. I was excited, ready to get to work. It was a great job, a fresh start. However, eight months into the job, I ended up in ICU from the side effects of treatment years ago – more than 20 years ago, actually. After being in the hospital for three weeks, and then recovering at home for a few more, I returned to work. Things were "back to normal," right? Well no, because that same year, more residual impacts of cancer treatment hit me. Again, shaking the fragile foundation of any normalcy, I was hoping to build.
I mean, even though I last kicked cancer in the face 20 years ago (Get over it, Ryan!), there are still the stops and starts – the residual impacts of cancer treatment. And this routine makes me feel anything but comfortable or content. It disrupts and interferes with the normal I'm searching for and trying to establish. And just so we're clear, I don't have unreal expectations of my life and "normal" – no private islands, yachts, no exotic cars. OK, I wouldn't mind a killer car at some point. Like some James Bond meets Star Wars type of thing. That's kind of doable, right?
Sometimes residual impacts of cancer treatment are one-offs and not such a big deal, depending on the person. Like, maybe I need a new medication to help some little problem here or there. Other impacts might be severe and chronic though. They’re things that make you think, "Will I go into V-tach for the final time today?" These are the things that stay in your mind constantly and are reinforced by memories that won't go away. Yeah, I might be out of ICU (again) but there are plenty of times I'm thinking, "Will I be back there again soon?"
Just like so many others, I've learned to cope. Many times, survivors have no other choice but to adapt to a new "normal" and all the ugly stuff that comes with it, but there are those days where you freeze up for a minute and think, "Woah… wait a minute. I've got this serious problem and is it worse? Should I be worried? Am I not being proactive enough?"
For many survivors, their cancer may be gone, but physically and mentally, they could have other battles going on, things that disrupt. Things that interfere – and that's normal.