Ed Steger is a head and neck cancer survivor. He was diagnosed in 2005 and after rough patches in 2006 and 2007 has been in remission. He writes a blog about his cancer experience at www.hncancer.blogspot.com.
I have a new normal. It's the result of my cancer and the life-saving treatments of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.
In writing this, I'm hoping that readers will find it helpful to understand how I'm transitioning from "old" normal to "new" normal and may find some of my techniques useful.
What's important to recognize is that I have lost a part of myself and with loss comes grief.
There's a generally accepted model for grief that includes five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are not necessarily chronological or complete. But, understanding this loss/grief model helps me cope and move forward in this transition.
The transition has been difficult. It's a work in progress, which has taken place during six years and is still evolving.
I'm an optimist. My father's an optimist. My mother was an optimist. My brothers and sister are optimists. Even my aunts and uncles are optimists. It runs in our family. I try to keep a positive attitude. When I'm down, I've resorted to charting my current and expected short-term mood.
For example, when chemotherapy has me feeling like a 2 on the 1-to-10 scale, I record on my chart that I expect to be at a 5 level in a week and a 7 level in two weeks. It's my way of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Lee Child, author of 17 novels, is a favorite writer of mine. The protagonist in all of his novels is Jack Reacher. Jack is an ex-military policeman who finds himself in precarious situations where he can make a positive difference.
One of Jack's favorite sayings is, "expect the best; prepare for the worst." This is how I live my life. Every time I feel a new pain, an unexpected change in my body or I'm scheduled for ongoing tests, I expect the best but prepare myself mentally for the worst. Using this mindset, I'm rarely surprised or disappointed.
Family and friends
I rely on my support network to keep me grounded. My disabilities would make it easy to become a recluse. Pushing myself to get out and prodding from family and friends keeps me in the game.
I supplement this by taking an occasional course, going to seminars, reading current literature and volunteering. All of this helps me maintain a sense of relevance in a world that values contribution.
Most of us go through peaks and valleys with our exercise routines. For me, exercise lifts my mood. I exercised religiously in 2010 and 2011, not so much in 2012. I recently reinvigorated myself with a two-part exercise routine. Part one was given to me by a speech language pathologist, who also specializes in swallowing issues.
I was given access to an iPhone app named iSwallowTM. It provides 15 exercises, video instructions for each exercise, a schedule for performing each exercise and an automated journal for recording exercises accomplished. I've been using this free app twice a day; each session takes 40 minutes. It's helping with my speech and swallowing capabilities.
It won't turn my new normal into my old normal, but it's helping to narrow the gap.
Part two is a renewed effort in aerobic exercise. I'm taking it slow and it's not overly strenuous, but it's helping my frame of mind. I hope to add some light weight lifting in the near future.
I see a therapist when I need to. During the past six years, I've seen the same therapist about 20 times. That works out to 3-4 times a year. It's not extensive, but when I find myself in a dark place, it helps to have a trained professional to talk to about my doldrums.
In a recent Cancerwise blog entry, "A Second Chance at Life," I wrote about how I'm setting new goals and reinventing myself. We're all different, but having goals is an important part of who I am. My cancer and the subsequent treatments have not taken this away from me. I continue to evolve my goals and the vision I have for my life.
Some people, both professionals and friends, think I'm too hard on myself. They think I would be happier if I let some of the "old" normal (the loss) go. They may be right, but I'm not sure there's a right and wrong here. Finding the proper balance is important.
Some people find me an inspiration. I'm glad, I always like to inspire, but I don't look at it that way. I don't have a choice as to my "new" normal, so I do what I can to continue to find enjoyment and fulfillment in life.
I do have a shorter-term outlook. I do like taking one day at a time. I remain curious about life. And I still have a sense of humor.
On the flip side, I'm hesitant to be responsible for longer-term projects and commitments.
This is all part of who I have become. It's my "new" normal.