Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
You hear the joking comments “Normalcy is highly overrated” and it is, until something happens to shake your foundation, and everything you have is turned upside down. For some people, it is a divorce, a break up, the loss of a loved one, but for me, it was my cancer diagnosis. I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma—rather melodic sounding, but mostly just a deadly cancer. I fought it with everything I had and, right now, I’m doing well. At my last check up, there was no evidence of the disease. I am a 6 1/2 year survivor.
I do a lot of advocacy work with patients who are newly diagnosed with mesothelioma. Most are facing the same thing I was—surgery, chemo, and radiation—not necessarily in that order, but the same three obstacles. The first thing they always ask, is, “How long until things get back to normal?” My answer is never! It is the NEW normal. Everything you knew, every breath, every heartbeat, everyday you wake up—it’s the new, different normal. It’s a world colored by a cancer diagnosis. A world where what you used to know and take for granted was wiped away by those three words, “You have cancer”. But the good news is that the new normal is not a bad place. Yes, it takes getting used to, but if you sit back and look at all that you have gained, it’s a beautiful thing. I don’t get upset about the little things like I used to—it doesn’t matter if the house isn’t perfect before friends come over. We are busy living, not hiding. I have a new appreciation for those around me and have the ability like never before to stand my ground with people who aren’t good for me. My cancer shook us to the core. But in hindsight, it may have needed shaking because the normal I had before was not so great. This new normal I’m living I’m quite happy with—cancer or not. I live my best life and embrace the change.
We talked to other cancer survivors and asked them what their new normal was. I hope you enjoy their answers. If you’re on this cancer journey, maybe there is something to be learned by the voice of experience that can help you embrace your new normal.
Finding my new normal was about priorities. I don’t spend time with toxic people anymore. I enjoy every argument I have with my family because I know I’m here to participate in the argument. I love being with my kids. If I run a 5k, I’m happy that I was able to run it, I don’t care about how fast.
-Lockey Maisonneuve, Moving On From Cancer.
When I finished treatment [for breast cancer] in December 2008 I was ready to begin 2009! Cancer is a more of a psychological disease than I realized, thus leading to many emotions as I went through treatment then went back to my life after treatment. I got through this time by opening myself up to those around me—I let people help me and pray for me. I also did what I could to get my life back in balance. Because I was diagnosed early, I was never physically feeling bad. However, I did let stress bother me and I was constantly on the go. Cancer has taught me to relax, to laugh, and to slow down. I've embarked on a new career, one that I always wanted to do and never pursued.
-Heather St.Aubin-Stout, author Not My Mother's Journey, breast cancer survivor, and blog Sharing My Story.
[My] final treatment meant a release of the anxiety and adjusting to a "new normal" life style. Having been fairly active all my life, it was easy to go back to daily exercise, travel and community activities. I'm sure no one on first meeting me would guess that cancer had been part of my life experience. I would strongly urge anyone who receives a similar diagnosis to investigate all treatment options.
-Ed Vigneau, prostate cancer survivor.
My new normal is normal. I gained a new appreciation of the fragility of good health and retired to pursue personal goals in my remaining years. My advice to a new patient - all treatment options, including no treatment, should be explored.
-Michael Kendrick, prostate cancer survivor.
It took a long time to accept what had happened to me. After the tears were over, I took my new lease on life and pushed forward. I joined Cancer to 5k five weeks after my surgery. I didn't give myself any more time to cry. It was time to live! My new normal day is a happier day. I teach second grade full time. I am a mommy to my 2-year-old son. I am a wife to my wonderful husband of 5 years. I am a survivor and a fighter. That is my new normal. The little things are no longer little to me. I smile brighter, love harder, laugh longer, and hug stronger. I now give back to a community that I now belong to. I have made friends that I would not have met. Cancer changed my life...in a good way!
-Suzanne Ludicke, colon cancer survivor