Adjusting to the New Normal
Jeff was out of the woods and we were going to back to normal life…sort of. Things were good and getting better and better. We were both the same people we were before cancer entered our lives. Yet, everything was different.
The stress of the last few months, my temporary nocturnal working life, and my mind and body being on constant alert took a toll. I couldn’t sleep. I had trouble focusing. I was often irritable. I felt terrible.
What I needed, what we both needed, was a break. I didn’t feel I could really ask for one. I felt guilty about taking off time from work. Jeff also felt that he needed to be back and physically present in the office. We would have to wait on a proper break.
In the meantime, even if I couldn’t get away for a while, I still needed to sleep. My body needed to be relaxed enough to sleep and it just wasn’t. I felt as though I couldn’t get off of high alert.
I went to my doctor and got some Ambien. After about 10 nights on Ambien, I was able to sleep normally again. It took that long to reestablish a normal sleeping pattern. But, it did return to normal.
One thing that didn’t go back to normal was our relationship with many friends and colleagues. Cancer became the top agenda item for every conversation. Not everyone focused in on it, but a great many did.
“How is Jeff?,” said with gravity and an intense look in the eyes.
He’s doing really well. Thanks for asking. By the way, he’s more than this disease. It’s not the main thing in his life anymore.
I don’t resent people asking about it. I just wish it wasn’t the first thing they thought of when thinking about Jeff. Even now, three years later, it still happens from time to time.
Running into people we hadn’t seen in a while was awkward. Some people, who knew, who would pull me aside and tell me how shocked they were by Jeff’s weight loss. People who didn’t know would outright remark on the weight loss. I had to quietly urge people to not say anything because 1. Jeff was very self-conscious of it, and 2. He had actually gained back some weight and had stabilized. (His body structure is different now, much more lean.)
As we meet new people, we tend to not bring it up. Sometimes, it does come up. If Jeff and I are together, it’s not a big deal. If it’s just me, it’s still not a big deal, but a funny thing happens.
People get a weird look on their faces, and I can tell that they desperately want to ask me something but know they shouldn’t. I take pity on these people. I answer the question they dare not ask.
Yes, everything works. We’re all good with our sex life.
Things were shifting back to normal but cancer was still ever present. Jeff was going in every month for check ups, alternating between his surgeon and his oncologist. Getting poked and prodded became a standard part of life.
Also standard was the extreme care with his dietary restriction. It shouldn’t be that hard to make sure there are no seeds, nuts, whole grains, or anything with a husk in food. However, it was trickier than we realized. For example, Jeff would order seared tuna and then would have to double check that it didn’t have a poppy seed coating (even if the menu didn’t mention the coating). We learned to always double check and ask, ask, ask.
Outside of that, our diet didn’t change. We had always been healthy and active. Some people, before Jeff got sick, even thought of us as too healthy and active. It was a nice bonus to have the “health freak” label taken off of us. We could enjoy our leafy greens and our workouts without judgment.
After a few months, we finally took our break. We went on a week-long beach vacation and relaxed. We even did a little SCUBA diving. I’m happy to say that the diving was fine — there were no issues for Jeff post-surgery in terms of being in the water or at depth.
We did wonder if anyone would notice his scar and ask about it. On that trip, no one did. On subsequent dive trips, some people did. No one asked about it. If anything, there was a sort of respect given. Obviously there was a surgery or trauma and obviously Jeff came through it all right. He got a sort of street cred (boat cred?) for it.
By the time Jeff hit the one year cancer free mark, we were well settled into our new normal. Life was different from before, but it was good.