Protective of the Phrase 'New Normal'

May 6, 2020

As we enter a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic cancer survivors know all too well what that "new normal" means.

When the COVID-19 pandemic became prevalent in our country, many were glued to their television sets. We wanted to hear and learn what all the hullabaloo was about. Not only were we interested, but we were also concerned and rightly so. This new virus was scary. People were dying from it.

One day, as a news reporter was giving updates about the number of cases in my city, I was shocked to hear him use a phrase I’d learned 6 years ago, the phrase, “new normal,” was being used to describe our current living conditions. The reporter used the term to explain how people would need to make concessions as they adjusted their lives to living during these dangerous times.

After listening to the broadcast, I felt a little betrayed. Sure, a “new normal” fit the pandemic our country was facing but, in my heart, “new normal” belonged to life post-cancer.

Right about now, my family and I would be spending time at the beach. It’s what we’d normally do this time of year, but since the pandemic, beaches have been closed. We won’t have the joy of feeling the sand beneath our feet or picking up seashells. We won’t get to enjoy the sun or the surf. We won’t even get to look for the colored signal flags daily posted to indicate the current condition of the sea. Red, orange, yellow or green, those colorful flags warn about possible rip tides or hazardous conditions. They help alert us to danger but also let us know when the seas are calm, and the water is fine for swimming.

Unlike those signal flags at the beach, the COVID-19 virus was thrust upon us with no warning. While it would have been nice to have had a head’s up, the deadly virus crept in silently like so many undetected cases of cancer also do.

The first time I heard the words “new normal”, I’d just been diagnosed with cancer. My assigned nurse navigator mentioned it as she explained how I’d proceed through surgery, tests and treatment. I’d never heard the phrase before and found it interesting. Little did I know, I’d use that term often post cancer, but I never expected to hear it being used in any other context than something referring to breast cancer.

Life has been in a constant state of flux since the discovery of the virus. We’re living life by trial and error without the help of a navigation system. These times have become uncertain and are definitely abnormal.

For the person whose life has been altered by breast cancer, the words “new normal” are relative. We’ve learned to incorporate them into our lives out of necessity to survive. A post cancer new normal refers to looking at life through a new lens, the lens of the future. Because life post cancer is vastly different than life pre-cancer. Life post cancer will never be the same again.

The same goes for the COVID-19 “new normal.” Though some things will eventually return to normal, many things will be forever changed. And that’s just the way it’s going to be. Different.

I guess I’ll have to learn to share the term “new normal.” I don’t even know who first coined the phrase or if it first applied to breast cancer, but it just seems to belong there. But who’s to say what normal is anyway?

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines normal as conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern. That sounds kind of boring to me, although I did like my life pre-cancer and at times, would love to return to it.

As we learn to muddle through this new “new normal” I hope we can find a way to make it work.

Those of us affected by breast cancer may be a bit further into the learning curve than those who’ve never grasped the concept of a “new normal” and that’s okay. It’s not difficult to change and adapt as long as a person is willing to take the risk of letting go of the past. That’s the hardest part.


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