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Ten Ways my ‘New Normal’ is Different

SaraLast year, Sara shared her experience of the ‘No Man’s Land’ immediately after breast cancer. Now, she’s back to share what her 'New Normal' is like two years on from treatment.

Recognising the ‘New Normal’

‘You’ll never be same person you were before cancer. There’s no going back to normal. Instead, you’ll find a New Normal,’ people explained as I came to the end of my breast cancer treatment.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure about that. First of all, I’d been fairly happy with my old normal. I didn’t actually want to change anything. I fully expected that, in time, I would just slip back into the life I’d had before eighteen months of cancer treatment had rudely interrupted it. Secondly, I was a mess at the end of treatment – physically, emotionally and mentally. I couldn’t see beyond the fact that I felt completely and utterly lost. I couldn’t get through a day without a) crying, b) panicking, c) sleeping, or d) all of the above. However, a significant time down the line and somehow or other I seem to have slipped into the place I am now.

It’s funny but before you have cancer you have absolutely no inkling that cancer can impact your relationships. You just assume that all your friends will rally around

How does it compare?

So, how does my life now compare with my old one? Well, it’s not necessarily better or worse, it’s just different...

  1. Slower pace of life. Rather than rushing around like the crazy woman I was before cancer, I now take life at a slower pace. This was originally because I was knackered all the time, but now with my energy levels back up to near-enough pre-cancer levels, I could rush around if I wanted But I don’t want to. What’s the point? It’ll only stress me out and make me feel awful. No thank you. I’ll take it at a slower pace. Life isn’t a race. It’s a gentle stroll in the park that needs to be enjoyed and savoured.
  2. Exercise and self-care. During treatment I read somewhere, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’ and this saying has stuck with me ever since. I’ve always lived a healthy lifestyle when it comes to eating, drinking and exercising. But now I have incorporated more exercise into my life (walking a dog three miles every day) and I actively practice self-care like mindfulness, reiki and generally listening to my body.
  3. I care less about what people think. Other people’s views are far less important to me now. I mostly care about what I think. I’ll also talk to pretty much anyone – the lady who brought her dog onto the train; the couple who kindly changed seats on the plane so I could sit next to my daughter; the elderly man who lives three houses down from us – I’m probably a total embarrassment to my children.
  4. Different priorities. Life’s priorities are different. I think that when you’re rushing through life and planning the next thing before you’ve even finished the current thing, your priorities can get a little bit skewed. I’ve just reassessed these and I’m now holding onto the things that are important to me - my family, my good friends, integrity and kindness.
  5. Daily routine. My daily routine has changed. As I said, I’m not rushing around now, I work less days, I have a dog that I walk every day and I spend more time at home. I think that I’ve got a better work/life balance. It’s just a shame that it took cancer to achieve this.
  6. Mindful. I am so much better at being mindful and staying in the present that ever before. As a result, I’m generally less stressed and much better at not over-thinking every single scenario in my life.
  7. Friendships. It’s funny but before you have cancer you have absolutely no inkling that cancer can impact your relationships. You just assume that all your friends will rally around and be there for you every step of the way and beyond. Sadly, this isn’t the case. People drop off both during treatment and after treatment when you’re trying to piece your life back together again. It happens for a variety of reasons (enough to write an entire article on) but whatever the reason, it’s hurtful, it makes you question yourself and it can seriously impact your self-confidence and self-esteem. I’ve been through this. But I feel like I’ve now come out the other side and I’m actually in a better place for it. Plus, I’ve got some fab new friends who I would never have met had I not been through cancer.
  8. Menopause. Physically, on the whole, I feel pretty good in my New Normal life. Which is probably down to not rushing, being more mindful, exercising more, practising self-care, getting enough sleep, eating healthily and so on. However, there is one aspect of this New Normal that is not so great and this is struggling with the side effects of going through a chemo-induced menopause and taking the hormone therapy, Tamoxifen. I’ve been put into a medically induced menopause and the side effects (hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog and the occasional fatigue) of that are, I am told, likely to last for a while longer.
  9. Fear. And this is the biggy. The big, black cloud hanging over me in my New Normal. Fear of cancer coming back as primary breast cancer or turning up as incurable stage 4 breast cancer in my brain, liver, bones or lungs. Sometimes I can go for a week without even thinking about cancer, let alone worrying about it coming back. I literally don’t think about it. Other times, it comes out of the blue and whacks me on the head, slaps me on the face and shouts at me through a huge tannoy “remember me, I’m fear and I’m not going anywhere.”
  10. Anxiety levels. I suppose that I’ve always had some anxiety – I would often worry or over-think situations. This anxiety reached max levels during and immediately after my treatment. But, with the help of a counsellor, writing, mindfulness, meditation and a few other tricks, it has calmed right down to a point where this non-cancer related anxiety is often at an even lower point than pre-cancer. If I can manage it and keep it there, then I’ll be very happy with this aspect of my New Normal.

Sara is the author of Ticking Off Breast Cancer, a book about juggling a busy life with treatment for primary breast cancer. It follows the physical and emotional impact of breast cancer on Sara’s life, and provides practical help by way of checklists at the end of each chapter. The book is out 26 September 2019 but you can pre-order the book now from Hashtag Press, Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles. Sara is also the founder of www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com, a website dedicated to supporting those who don’t know which way to turn for help after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis; those who are overwhelmed by the breast cancer resources online and those just looking for a comfortable, safe, calm place. The website provides practical advice for each step of the way, together with many signposts to other online resources and lots of personal stories. Follow her on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Louise H (not verified)

Struggling as I approach first anniversary of the diagnosis and glad to have my feelings validated. Particularly regarding friendships. For someone who has invested lots of energy in friendships in the absence of good family relationships, being let down by some friends has been more difficult experience than the diagnosis itself !!!

Denise S (not verified)

Agreed! It's not just me then, hurrah! I don't expect friends to understand what we've been through, how could they? But judgement, shame and guilt are things I will not have put on me resulting from the choices I made. Choices that enabled me to heal and ultimately kept me whole in the process. Love to you Louise

Gwyn (not verified)

Can absolutely relate to all of these especially number nine!

Jo Weeks (not verified)

My thing, having just been told I’m cancer-free, is what do I do now? I so want to do something special and new and worthwhile. I loved my previous life but I’m not that person anymore and don’t want to be either. I was so complacent. Cancer wasn’t going to happen to me. Part of me can hardly believe I had it, even after 15 months of treatment including chemo, radiotherapy and three lots of surgery. Am I still in denial?

June Hastings (not verified)

Totally agree with Sara, fortunately didn’t have the menopause to cope with as well.
I had breast cancer 9 years previously and didn’t really think consciously about it coming back but this time it’s obviously very different.

Gail (not verified)

Just read this and it's amazing, it's exactly my feelings at the moment after being diagnosed in April 2019 last year, going through mastectomy, chemo, radiotherapy, on tamoxifen although had to stop as making me even more ill, obsessed with it spreading, etc, cant wait to buy the book, dont feel so alone

Karen Harvey (not verified)

Thank you for this, I got my 5 year all clear in October last year. I think it is only now that I am coming to terms with having breast cancer. A lot has chance for me in those years, main one being my husband of 22 years walked out on me after my first year all clear. He had been having an affair with a work colleague while I was going through treatment. Going through the betrayal and hurt of the split was worst than going through the cancer treatment, I hit rock bottom and even thought of suicide, well, what was the point of carrying on, I had no hair, put on weight. My ex actually put on the divorce papers "unreasonable demands on his time taking me to and from the hospital during my recent health issues".
I have an amazing brother and sister in law who supported me, also help from a couple of very good friends I have slowly got back on track. My hair has grown back, I am now exercising at bootcamp 2-3 times a week so have toned up, changed my job and had a reconstruction. Still feel deeply hurt and most probably will never trust a man again only my brother. I will be on Tamoxifen for at least another five years, and the hot sweats and the brain fog are a reality but as I said I am getting there, The down days are getting less and less.