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Thoughts on My "New Normal" After Cancer

Brenda Denzler, Ph.D.

Cancer treatment saves our lives—if we’re lucky. But for those of us whose lives it saves, it doesn’t save ALL of our lives. It saves bits and pieces of them. The doctors call that partial life a happy, hopeful name: our “new normal.” Most oncologists don’t pay a great deal of attention to this partial-life-left, to its quality or its features, among those of us (the majority) who are older when we get cancer.
 
They are just beginning to pay real attention to it among those who were children when they got it. Among the older set, they write off most of our comments and complaints about our new limitations as the natural process of getting older, and they turn away without a thought given to the issue of how much older, how much faster. As if the only thing cancer treatment did to our bodies was rid them of cancer.
 
I just spent about 36 hours with my two young grandchildren. It was a good visit. I had prepared for it ahead of time, minimizing the amount of cooking and cleaning up of dishes I’d have to do. I took a nap with the younger one on Saturday afternoon. I propped my feet up and rested throughout…as much as having two small children around will allow. And when they left, while I welcomed the chance to sit for 30 uninterrupted minutes, I was sad to see them go (as usual). I quickly succumbed to a nap—no surprise. It lasted four hours. That WAS a surprise. I woke up from my nap feeling so fatigued I could hardly move, with that all-over body ache and tingling hands and feet that indicate I’ve overdone it big-time. I oozed my way through the evening, trying hard to stay awake and not lapse into sleep again. When a decent bedtime came, I allowed myself to succumb. This time I slept for 11 more hours. And again, I have awoken feeling exhausted deep in every bone, every muscle fiber.
 
THIS is my “new normal.” To heck with the, “but you’re getting older” bromide. I shouldn’t be THIS old, THIS soon. Cancer treatment saves our lives, if we are lucky. But not ALL of our lives. It just saves bits and pieces of them.
 
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