Question: I sometimes hear cancer survivors talk about the “new normal.” What is this?

Answer: “The new normal” is a phrase used to describe how life changes for some people who have been through cancer.

Here are some examples:

  • A man treated for oral cancer who can no longer taste many foods.
  • A woman treated for breast cancer whose arm is permanently swollen.
  • A man treated for colorectal cancer who needs to use the bathroom frequently because of the surgery on his gastrointestinal tract.

In all of these situations, the cancers were likely cured, but their lives were changed.

Most people are remarkably resilient. As we often hear, “You just learn to deal.”

Although we learn to deal, we also acknowledge the losses, especially when we get outside of our normal routines. Perhaps it’s at a special family dinner when you can’t taste the food you loved growing up. Or you can’t wear that sleeveless dress to a fancy event. Or your travel plans require an awareness of public restrooms along the route.

When one of us does complain, it’s typically prefaced by saying, “I feel guilty complaining because my cancer is gone. But I’m really ticked that I can’t…”

There can also be a lengthy period of recovery during which the person isn’t sure what the new normal will be. People often ask themselves and their doctors, “Is this as good as it’s going to get?”

Adjusting to the new normal following cancer is rarely a smooth process. Each person does it on their own terms and on their own schedule. Even when cancer is in the past, it’s never completely in the past for many of us. That’s why cancer support groups are so valuable. We help each other adjust to the new normal.

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