What exactly is the new normal? This phrase, “new normal,” became part of my lexicon just over five years ago. At this time five years ago, I was recovering from two lumpectomies and waiting to get started on a pretty rigorous chemotherapy regimen. At this time five years ago, I had heard the term “new normal”, a term meant to describe a new way of living as a cancer patient/survivor/thriver. I thought I had embraced the term back then. I thought I understood it. I didn’t.
You see, I have been living with the idea that I live a new normal, when all along I’ve been kicking and screaming for the old normal, for the time when I was oblivious about the reality of my future, the reality of everyone’s future really. I lived with the illusion that death was an enigma. It was so far from where I was that I didn’t really think about it. I even feared thinking about it. For the last five years, all I have wanted was that innocence back. I talked a pretty good game, but the reality is that I didn’t accept the new normal. I’ve kept trying to get back on track with life. While my doctors have been nothing but good to me, I have dreaded every office visit, not because of the possibility of bad or good new, but because of the imposition it put on me wanting the old normal, on me wanting to get back to the life I once had. I stopped going to breast cancer support groups. I stopped going to anything that reminded me that I once had cancer. I even stopped writing about it so much.
Why is this coming up now? I watched the movie 50/50. As a member of Cancer World, as the late Leroy Sievers called it, I was reluctant to watch the movie, but wanted to see the movie all the same, mostly because I love Seth Rogen in anything. I’d also heard a lot of good things about the movie. I’d heard writer Will Reiser talk about it in an interview and I just couldn’t resist. Last night, I finally did get a chance to see it. I settled into my recliner. It was a rare night when my 13-year-old curled up in my lap. I held her tight as I watched, and relived a little, the experience one has going through cancer. It was like everything I ever wanted to say about what was most definitely the worst year of my life was flickering right before me, and just when I thought I was going to cry, Seth Rogen was there to make me laugh and laugh loud and full and free. It was a the perfect blend of reality and laughter that allowed the feelings I’ve held inside for a long time to more or less be expelled. It allowed me to begin facing the new normal or whatever it is. I have been hard on myself. I have put unnecessary expectations on myself. Post-cancer, it seems balance has been the hardest thing to find.
If nothing, the movie made me see that the new normal is a silly term. Cancer does not bring a new normal. There is nothing normal about cancer, even five years after all the crap. It’s not normal that cancer happened. It’s not normal that everyone is afraid to talk about cancer when it does happen. It’s not normal that even medically still we treat cancer as something that has to be dealt with but hidden as we deal with it. There is nothing normal about cancer, but the real illusion is that there is anything about life that is normal. The only real normal is that I am hardly the only person who is dealing with anything out of the ordinary. Even the most ordinary life is extraordinary in good and bad ways. Perhaps it’s silly that a movie could make me see this, but the fact that the movie is based on Will Reiser’s real life experience with cancer makes me understand why I connected with it. Maybe, it’s not that the movie made me see it at all. Maybe, it’s that the movie gave me a chance to laugh out loud about something that everyone seems frightened to laugh about. Maybe, it’s the fact that the movie gave my entire family a chance to laugh about something we all were frightened to laugh about. For that, Will Reiser, Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jonathan Levine, I can’t thank you enough for daring to make a movie about cancer.
Here is to giving the old heave ho to “old normals” and “new normals.” Here is to simply having a rare night to sit with my daughter curled up in my lap again. Here is to sitting with husband and my son. Here is to all of us laughing and laughing and laughing until the tears come. Ah, now I feel, dare I say, normal.