How I Turned My New Normal Into A New Life

Le plus important en fin de compte, ce ne sont pas les cartes qu’on vous a données, c’est ce que vous en faites…C’est la leçon que j’ai apprise de mon expérience avec le cancer et c’est le sujet de mon nouvel article pour I Had Cancer! Ihadcancer.com
 
What really matters in the end, is not really the cards you are dealt but rather how you play the hand…This is the lesson I have learned from my experience with cancer and that’s the topic of my new article for I Had Cancer! Ihadcancer.com
 
unsplash_-_jbriscoe-min
When I got diagnosed with cancer in the midst of my 30s, I did not let the news bring me down. Instead, I immediately turned into a brave little soldier and accepted all the treatments that were thrown my way without flinching. I was convinced that I would win this fight and that life would just be brilliant afterwards.

But unfortunately this is not what happened… Indeed, when the euphoria that followed the end of the ordeal died down, it finally hit me. My body was still not in as good a shape as it has been and no matter how hard I tried or wanted it to happen, I just could not fit back into my old life. And, if at first I was just happy to celebrate my friends’ weddings, baby showers and professional successes, I began feeling like my life was passing me by and that I was becoming a mere spectator who was not allowed to have their share of the cake.

It was as if all the repressed fears and pains were slowing coming out. I started suffering from insomnia and getting stressed over menial things. I became angry more quickly and began losing interest in some of the things I used to love. I basically felt that I no longer had any control on what would happen to me and was terrified that my cancer would come back. Mostly, and it took me a while to admit it, I was feeling vulnerable because of what had happened to me.

I felt ashamed because I was one of the lucky ones. So many of my fellow cancer fighters had lost their battle while I had been given a second chance, so who was I to complain? And with nobody around to listen to my worries, for my family and friends had already turned the page and moved on, I had to find the resources within myself to give a new meaning to my life. And this is how I adopted my 3-way plan to make the most of what I had been left with.

It started with taking some baby steps. I first had to accept that I was no longer the same person I used to be, and that it was okay if I was not able to bounce back in a day. I had been through a lot and I needed to acknowledge the changes cancer had brought to my life before I could accept them. I was no less of a person because I needed time to grieve. I therefore allowed myself to cry, and I did cry a lot at that time, or vent my frustration. But at the same time, I also made sure to pat myself on the back when I was making progress, or to be forgiving when I did not.

Little by little, it became easier to start planning a future based on my new reality and, as a consequence, to lower my expectations. That was the second step. I had always been one of those girls who dreamed big and always wanted more. I now knew that I had fewer options but did not want to let those unfortunate chances hold me back any more. Life is full of opportunities once we no longer let ourselves be burdens by the standards imposed by society. It is way easier to take a new direction without the pressure to necessarily make the most of our existence.

It is way easier to take a new direction without the pressure to necessarily make the most of our existence.

I thus left the stressful corporate world and a job that had become meaningless for a position in a small governmental entity. This may be less glamourous on paper, but it gives me the impression that I am finally making a difference in this world.

With a new purpose in life, the third step was to simply count my blessings. I now make a list every evening of all the good things that has happened to me over the last 24 hours. If I first started with some very little things, I now have the impression that my life is made of many beautiful moments – whether it is simply a splendid sunny day or a nice lunch with a friend.

After all, what really matters in the end, is not really the cards you are dealt but rather how you play the hand.

What have you done to take back your new normal?

Photo courtesy of Jason Briscoe.

I’m Not a Hero, I Did What I Needed To Do To Survive

 

Numériser 1 copie

Sometimes when faced with a difficult situation like cancer, one becomes somebody else, and can be labeled as some sort of “hero”. But when the mask falls off, the reality is far different. Read more below.

A few weeks after I had finished all my treatments, I had lunch with a girlfriend. She had been present through every step of my battle against the big C and this meal was our way to celebrate my long awaited victory. As nice as it was to reflect on just how far I’d come and to start planning a new future, I realized something: no matter how close people had been to me during this, they would never fully understand what I had been through. Even worse, their perception of me was now totally biased.

It quickly became obvious that my friend saw me as some sort of a hero. She spent the entire lunch telling me how impressed she was of the way I had handled my illness and how she probably would not have been half as strong.

That made me mad. I knew she meant it as a compliment, so I kept my mouth shut, but, inside my head, a little voice was screaming: “But I am not different from you, I am not brave, I haven’t changed, I just did not have a choice, it was my life I was dealing with!”

Even in the new comic superhero movie, Deadpool, the title character is battling cancer and wants nothing to do with the “hero” title. The movie debunks the myth that all survivors are “superheroes”- when a lot of us don’t see ourselves that way. As this article so honestly points out, “Deadpool doesn’t reject being a superhero because it’s cool not to care, but because the meaning of ‘hero’ has shifted.”

To be honest, I didn’t even recognize myself during my long cancer battle. I completely dissociated from the reality of what was happening and it was as if I was floating above, outside myself. As soon as I heard the diagnosis, I turned into a soldier ready to do everything it takes to get better and I fought relentlessly. That was something I had never done before and will hopefully never have to do again.

I blocked off all my emotions as a survival mechanism. I stopped all my tears, tried to focus on the present, only the present, and took everything in stride.

The side effects from the various treatments were intense. I dreaded each new session of chemotherapy. As soon as I stepped inside the hospital, I would put on a brave face and smiled. I was terrified but it was my way of coping with the situation; the only way I knew how to go on.

So, to my surprise, I never once felt sorry for myself and rarely did I shed a tear. I barely cried when my beloved dog, Charlie, passed away shortly after the results of my biopsy. I barely cried when I discovered my scars or saw my new bald self for the first time. And I also barely cried when my friends got married while I was stuck in bed. Or when some turned their back to me, simply because they could not bear the sight of me.

Every day, I did my best to live as normally as possible, not necessarily how a “hero” would. I kept on exercising, nearly as much as possible, because it gave me the impression that I was doing something good for my body. I saw my friends as often as I could, even when having fun was the last thing on my mind, because I needed to convince myself that I was still a normal person. I kept on working for my company, on a part time basis, because it allowed me to think that I was still being useful. And I tried not to be upset when people said stupid things or looked at me in a weird way because I realized that I had to live for me and not according to standards imposed by society.

But when this nightmare finally came to an end, I dreamt one night of my dog Charlie, and the pain became so vivid that I woke up in tears. And for the next few hours, I cried all the tears I had not let out for nearly a year. I cried for all the pains I had been through, I cried for my dog, I cried for the children I would never have, and I cried for all the other dreams I would no longer be able to achieve.

So I am definitely not a hero but just a regular gal who, at a moment in time, had to become somebody she is not, in order to fight for her life.

Have you ever been called a hero for fighting cancer? What’s your opinion on that title? Share your view in the comments below! Deadpool photo courtesy of Sideshow Collectibles.