"And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure whether the storm is really over.
But one thing is certain, when you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in.
That's what the storm is all about." - Haruki Murikami
Normal is such an interesting word. What is normal for one person might feel completely absurd to another. As a therapist, I understand that "normal" is subjective. Everything from culture, time, and individual experience can color our perception of what is "normal". And sometimes what we think is normal, can often be anything but normal when we are given some space to truly process it. I have been wrestling with normality for the last couple of weeks...
I tried to think of a metaphor that would make sense for me. I think some people might think of cancer as a train that is derailed... and that somehow after treatment, the train is placed back on its track and is asked to move forward in the direction it was going before the unlucky accident. This just doesn't seem correct for me. I feel like a kidnapping makes more sense. One day you are just living your life and this sadistic maniac named cancer comes and kidnaps you. All of the things you were concerned about prior to cancer are immediately placed in the low priority category. You do what you can in those moments to survive. You focus on blood counts, treatment options, and recurrence rates. You are faced with mortality on a daily basis. You meet other kidnapping victims, finding comfort in someone who shares this experience and you plot together how you might escape. And cancer doesn't just kidnap you alone. It takes your whole family.
And then one day you are released. Back to your old life. After ten months of captivity. But you are lost. You aren't even sure about the direction you are supposed to be going. And you are surrounded by people who don't understand. They think they do. But they don't. They can't. Their conversations feel foreign to you. In reality you are not really free. You understand that cancer is lurking... and could decide in a moment to kidnap you again. Maybe that is why I have this urge to move far way from where I am now. Maybe then cancer won't find me or my family. I am a trauma survivor.
There was an article I read in the New York Times recently about anxiety and cancer survivors. It resonated with me. I know that I have a lot of work to do to become comfortable with my new life... and even though cancer may linger in the background, I have to learn to shift my focus around the room to see all of the other things in the room aside from cancer. I need to replace fear based decision making with decision making that focuses on what I desire in this life for myself and my family. Although I know if I pack up the car and move across the country, cancer will move with me - I also know that finding ways to work less, be near family, and have more space for art and fun are the healthy options for me.
There is another article about post traumatic growth, which is defined as "positive changes experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or traumatic event." The notion that with trauma also comes ways in which our life is enriched. Perhaps we become clear about our values. We no longer want to postpone happiness. I am definitely moving in this direction - but it will take time.