The new normal

A few years ago, a friend of mine stated categorically that he would get cancer. He was quite calm about it. He argued that being diagnosed with cancer was so statistically likely that it was no longer a question of whether or not he would get it but whether or not medical progress would win the race against whichever cancer he had.

Who knew that it would be me who would receive the diagnosis. Through and after the long months of horrid treatment, what my friend said turned out to be not only true but also a great comfort. Cancer is as common as graduating say MacMillan in their report ‘The C word: How we react to cancer today

The diagnosis is of course horrendous, feeling like some macabre lottery that randomly churns out the winning death ticket on which is printed a ‘cash in’ date in the very near future. But once the initial shock begins to subside a little and you emerge from being a walking zombie, able to acknowledge that this is indeed happening – to you – you just need to get on with it. Well that’s what I did. I took heed of what my grandmother used to say: ‘what matters is not what life throws at you but how you respond to what life throws at you’. To be honest, I’m not sure I actually ever heard her use those words but hey, it’s not a bad rule of thumb.

The treatment for cancer becomes all encompassing. Days and days are filled with appointments, consultations, tests, results, more tests and more consultations. There is of course ‘the day’ on which you are told the bad news. But the diagnosis itself can unfold over a few weeks as the experts explore precisely what you have, where it is, how far it has developed – and therefore how best to treat it. The early days are like a crash course in oncology 101. Even the word oncology really means something for the first time.

Everyone’s cancer treatment journey is different and as medical science progresses, so treatment protocols will no doubt become even more personal, targeted specifically to have maximum impact with minimum side effects. Navigating through the treatment journey is a job in itself: preparing for consultations so that you have your questions ready and on the tip of your tongue; organising your life to carry on as best as is possible around terrifying conversations and energy zapping treatment; finding personal resources from the depths of your soul to fuel the emotional energy you expend every day.

But then at some point, the haze clears, your diary suddenly has opportunity for doing something other than attend hospital or recuperate at home, and the treatment draws to a close. Hopefully, there’s been a good outcome – well, for now anyway because who knows what the future will bring. But here’s the important thing, all is indeed good for now. And this is the new normal. The time – hopefully a very long time – during which you need to adjust to the fact that yes, you did have cancer but now you have a life to live.


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