Cancer Survivorship: Adjusting to The New Normal

Pictured: Alicia (left) with a supportive group of friends and family.

"If you are in treatment now and feel like life will never be normal again, I am here to tell you that it will."

My early twenties were everything I imagined they would be. They were fun, filled with life and discovery, naive in the best of ways, connected by travels, and laced with endless dreams. This was until I hit a roadblock at age 25. Cancer stood in my tracks. What was I to do? This wasn’t part of my vision for my 20’s. But when I was diagnosed, I tried to mirror what my mother’s approach to life has always been; focus on the situation and work towards a solution in a calm and constructive manner. Looking back, I am confident that I did this to the best of my ability. 

I put my trust in my doctor and her resources, invested my faith in God, and moved forward. Although my life seemed to come to a halt, I was leading a new life towards wellness. I had so much to be thankful for because I was alive and I was happy. But unfortunately life isn’t always that easy.

During treatment, I spoke with a peer who was celebrating some of life's major milestones—a recent marriage, the pursuit of higher education, the purchase of a home and a puppy, as well as a dream career. Of course I was overjoyed to hear all of this good news because I was in my twenties and all of this would soon be heading my way … one day. But then I was asked, “So what big things are happening in your life?” I Immediately felt deflated. I said, “Right now, I am just excited to wake up and get out of bed.” I received a blank stare in return.

That blank stare has haunted me. Cancer treatment and recovery come with a host of recommendations and guidelines for success. I was told that getting out of bed and doing everyday activities like brushing my teeth and eating were reasons to celebrate. I suddenly felt like it wasn't enough, and it was a serious reality check. 

It took months for me to realize that it is ok to celebrate the small stuff. As a grateful patient in remission, there are days when I still celebrate those small victories. I am taking slow and steady steps to get back to where I was before, and that is something to be proud of.

If you are in treatment now and feel like life will never be normal again, I am here to tell you that it will. Last summer, at this time, I was undergoing my month-long stay at Roswell Park and thinking I would never be able to help on my family’s farm again. This summer, by taking it slow and doing small projects on the farm like planting flowers, I was able to regain confidence and strength. In the gym, I essentially started over and evaluated my body and what it was capable of. I gradually increased the intensity until I was able to do a full workout I was proud of. In the workplace, I started part-time and worked my way back to full-time gradually.

That blank stare no longer haunts me because I know slow and steady always wins the race. I am confident that it is ok to be in a different place than others, because that is life! So take a step back, cherish the moment, and embrace where you are in your life. If you are in treatment, slowly make progress to your new normal. You will get there. All things are possible with faith, support and a positive attitude.