Nothing Normal about the New Normal

by Megha AgarwalOctober 17, 2019View more posts from Megha Agarwal

Once I finished crying over the fact that I needed 20 rounds of chemotherapy, 20 rounds of radiation and 5 years of hormonal therapy for my breast cancer diagnosis, I set a date in this mind. In my head, by this date, I would have finished both chemotherapy and radiation and then my life would be back to exactly where it was before the diagnosis.

Or, at least the gullible me thought so. Little did I know, that life would never be the same again.

What I expected vs. What it really is

My Body

I had envisaged that as soon as I was done with chemotherapy and radiation, I would be totally fine. In fact, I thought I could run a half marathon a few months after I finished treatment. It has been almost one and half years since I finished chemotherapy and I am nowhere close to running any marathon.

Chemotherapy has had a long-term impact on my body and wrecked my immunity. My body is still coming to terms with hormonal therapy and its myriad side effects. On some days, routine tasks such as waking up and going to work seem daunting. However, having said this, I feel treatment has taught me to respect and love my body. Yes, it is not the same body that it was before cancer. But it is a body I understand and pay heed to more than ever before.

My Hair

Ever since I finished chemotherapy, the moment I was eagerly waiting for was for my hair to grow back. However, what I had not envisioned was the way it grew back. My Google research did prepare me for ‘chemo curls’ but it did not brace me for the moppy hair. The process that I had earlier thought would be the most exciting, landed up being quite challenging.

People around me were not so kind with their comments on the disheveled look. On my low days, such comments got to me and it became difficult to look at myself in the mirror. However, I stayed put as I was hell bent on growing my hair back to the length it was before cancer. I kept telling myself that if I could rock the bald and ‘eyebrow-less’ look, inconsiderate remarks were not going to deter me from rocking my mop.

My Career

I think what really got me through treatment was the thought that as soon as I would be done with it, I could resume working full time. I could not wait to go back to doing what I loved doing. However, things haven’t been the same at work ever since and contrary to my expectation, I did not pick up from where I left off. The initial few months were fraught with self-doubt and finding my spot back in the workplace.

Thereafter, it has been a constant struggle to find a work-life balance. A ‘type A’ personality coupled with the side effects from cancer treatment has not particularly been the best combination for me from the career perspective. Despite this, I have been working harder than ever before so that I can continue pursuing my passion.

My Social Life

While I would have hoped that some of the aforesaid aspects had turned out the way I wanted them to be, I am glad that my social life didn’t turn out the way I wished. I had imagined that I would be back to partying and socializing as soon as I was done with treatment.

However, Friday nights post treatment are more about staying indoors, eating the right kind of food and getting some good quality sleep so as to wake up in time for yoga the morning after. Pointless partying and socializing have now been replaced by soirees involving meaningful conversations with people who I truly love.

 What I love about it

I don’t mean to scare people who are about to finish treatment by writing this piece, but I hope that this (in whatever little way it can) helps people mentally prepare for the road ahead. I dare say that, despite there being nothing normal about this ‘new normal’, I sort of love this ‘new life’.

Yes, it has its lows (in abundance that too) which make me question the universe as to why things went so wrong in the first place. But I feel the treatment has made me stronger. It takes a lot more than it did earlier to ruffle my feathers. I truly enjoy the little moments and things in life and am more grateful than ever before. I am also slowly but steadily adapting how to deal better with stress and the fear of a recurrence.

And, you know what the best part about this new life is? It is the love that people shower me with. Yes, quite a few close friends weren’t there for me during treatment and that broke my heart. However, the ones that stuck around showered me (and continue to do so) with so much love that nothing else matters in this world.

I remember reading something on the lines of this on Instagram and don’t think it could have gotten any truer: “We cancer patients are truly the blessed ones.” We just need to count the tiniest of our blessings and learn to be grateful for them.

Nobody’s life is perfect and we must make hay while the sun shines!

:-)