I read Sue Vincent’s post with sympathy, because when I went through my cancer treatment I too wanted to feel ‘normal’. I’ve never had chemotherapy, but have had extensive external beam radiotherapy to the neck area, and four years later I still feel the after-effects which of course are now incorporated into my ‘new normal’.
Over time we all have to accept the legacy of our ‘new normal‘. This may be reduced mobility due to arthritis, or side-effects of diabetes, stroke, cancer, or even prescription drugs. Life has a myriad of other complaints to throw at us, and few of us are exempt.
The mistake I made in 2017 was thinking about my older normal and what I could do when I was, say, 25. I had a nasty habit of comparing my then 59 year old body undergoing radiotherapy for stage 4 thyroid cancer with its long-gone younger model. After 4 radioiodine treatments and 30 blasts of radiation to the neck I could only speak in a whisper, could hardly swallow, and had salivary glands that did not work anymore. Lymphoedema reared its ugly head, ensuring I could never again lie flat at night to sleep. I quickly came to know that any insect bite, fragrance, gloss paint, or new prescription drug for instance had the potential to cause over-sensitive irradiated tissue in my neck to swell up alarmingly on the inside.
But hey, 4 years have passed since then, and I’ve stopped thinking about when I used to sing alto in various choirs. I can’t lie flat, but I’m now used to sitting propped up in bed. I avoid very dry foodstuffs. I often sing in my head (which is kinder to Sam!). I carry steroid tablets and anti-histamines around with me in case the inside of my neck swells. I’ve improved on the whisper, and now have a voice that is sometimes croaky depending on how much water I’ve drunk. The more water I can drink, the better my voice sounds. This has a detrimental effect if I’m out, as you can imagine, and so I tend to sip, sip, sip out of the house (to quote Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited) like a dowager all day, my dear.
I hate my new normal, but it’s the one I’ve been given. We all learn to adapt and live with our new normal, and after a while the new normal becomes normal. It’s now normal for me to sit up in bed, to sip water all day, to eat food with gravy or a sauce, and not to sing out loud. I don’t ask ‘why me?’ anymore, because I already know the answer ( why not? Why should I be an exception?).
At age 25 I was sure that nothing nasty would ever happen to me. I took good care of my body; I’ve never drunk much alcohol and have never smoked. However, I had a shyster dentist who did loads of unnecessary work on my teenage teeth, including lots of x-rays, for his own financial gain. This stored up problems 30 years down the line as I was as green as grass at the time, and if I could sue him now I would. However… he’s dead.
What do the Americans say? I think it’s something like ‘suck it up‘. Yeah, I’m sucking it up big time, lol. So, people … what’s your new normal? Can you still do what you used to do? I can go to work, can get on my bike, and I can also walk unlimited distances, so I can’t complain. Working where I do and seeing patients, I’m grateful for what I’ve still got. It ain’t ideal, but as they say, that’s life.