Friday, February 28, 2014

The New Normal

I have learned a lot the last six months. One of the things that has become more apparent is that a diagnosis of breast cancer not only initiates a woman into a world of medical procedures and a extended web of caregivers, it also initiates women into a sorority of patients and survivors that is more broad and intriguing than most folks would imagine.

Lately, Jennifer has been in a conversation with a woman in our small town who was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Her case of cancer looks more frightening and malignant than anything we faced. Jennifer and Sara, however, also share a lot in common. They are both mothers of toddlers. They are both professionals who are going to have to struggle to balance family and professional lives with treatment.

As Jennifer's husband, and a somewhat observant fellow, I have noticed that as Jen dialogues with Sara, she is working through a lot of the early days of her diagnosis all over again. Jen is remembering how she felt, and she is pondering how she made it through it all to where she is now. If  you follow her blog, you can see how she is doing that through her words of gratitude for the blessings she has received.

As I observe Sara and Jen, I also begin to notice certain stages that people go through on their breast cancer journey. Early on, many folks respond by "taking the fight" to cancer. This is healthy. Defeating breast cancer is quite a battle, and bolstering one's energy and seeking the support of others in the battle against cancer is powerful in one's ability to endure the painful and often humbling realities of chemotherapy.

One thing, that one often misses at this stage of dealing with the breast cancer journey is this: things will never be the same. In the early stage, there is this latent, unspoken hope that one will have a temporary battle to overcome this illness, and then you will get your "normal" life back. The truth is, nothing will ever be the same again. Your relationship with your spouse will be profoundly changed for the rest of your life. Your children's lives' trajectory will also be altered, especially if you are parents of children who are not adults. Your career and your habits will be minimally or greatly altered.

When I was adapting to my family's changing face during the breast cancer, I found myself somehow hoping to survive for a few weeks or months, thinking we would get through everything and then get back on track from where they were. At some point, I came to the conclusion that there was no going back to the way things were ever, and that I needed to face a new normal. In fact, we have had to face several new normals since then. And in case you missed it by now: the old normal is dead, and a new normal is then resurrected from its ashes.

The mystery of this ruthless disease is that, in the middle of its terror and death-seeking horror, it brings new life at the same time. I would never want to go through what we have gone through in the last 6 months ever again, but at the same time, I would have never wanted to miss the journey with Jennifer and the girls.

I would never want things to be back to normal. I would want Jennifer to be healthier again. I would want her to be stronger again. But she is not the same person I married, or even the same person I knew last year at this time. I was in love with the old Jen, and I have fallen in love with the new one too. Our lives together, although at times more stressful and tenuous, has taught us at the same time to treasure moments more fully and helped each of us grow into more of the people the Spirit is making us to be.

What I am saying, if you have not guessed it, is this. The cancer journey, while forcing all of us to face Jen's mortality, has also been, in a small way, a rebirth of sorts. We don't know where all of this new life is taking us. We do know that we will not be the same, and that God, in his unspeakable, mysterious grace, is making the darkness just a seedbed for new light. And what will become, while in His loving hands, in also a result of our choices to fight, to love, to adapt, to adjust, and to grow.

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