A few days after I was diagnosed with stage 3B Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, we gathered our four kids around my hospital bed and tried to explain that mum had cancer, as best as you can explain to a 15 year old, 11 year old, 9 year old and 3 year old. As our youngest rolled with glee across the blanket, we solemnly explained that mum was very sick, but we were going to do everything we could to get me well again. We also explained how it might be mummy didn’t get better, or get to come home again, but we weren’t going to think about that right now. We would just do today, and we’d just do today every day. And no matter what happened – no matter what happened – everything was going to be okay.
Years later, I asked my eldest about what he was thinking around that time. “I was fine. I knew whatever happened, no matter how afraid I was, even if you died, everything was, and was going to be, okay.”
Was our response to my diagnosis normal? Was their reaction normal? Normal? Mum having cancer and possibly going to die? Never. There was nothing normal about our children being put through that.
But were they okay?
We told them whatever happened, whatever they felt, wanted to do, needed to express, pulled closer to or let go of, that was okay.
Even if I never came home again, they were going to be okay.
The situation was not normal, and thinking about whether it was normal, right or fair wasn’t going to help any of us. So instead, we told our kids they would be afraid and there was nothing wrong with that, and no matter what happened to mum, we would find a way to help them feel safe again.
They would feel safe again.
They were okay.
Here are some of the things I am asked most frequently by people who have cancer, or had cancer –
“I don’t think I can ever go back to the way things were before cancer. Is this normal?”
“It’s difficult for me to trust my body now, after all, I feel it let me down. Is this normal?”
“My friends seem to be over my having cancer, and I know I’m not. Is this normal?”
“I sometimes wake up in the night so anxious and scared I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m going to die. Is this normal?”
“My friends tell me I’ve changed. I’m just not interested in doing the things we used to enjoy. Is this normal?”
“I just want to forget cancer ever happened. Is this normal?”
“I’m a wreck. Is this normal?”
“I’m perfectly okay. Is this normal?”
When it comes to cancer, and the other traumas and terrible things which can happen to us, there is no such thing as “normal”, old, new, or otherwise. But there is such a thing as “okay”.
There is no use me telling you your feelings are abnormal and you need to correct them. There is no benefit to you in me trying to make you into the same person you were before cancer. Judging certain thoughts and emotions as good or bad isn’t going to help you cope, or change the past. There is no “getting back to normal.” How will you know if you ever get there?
But it’s completely different when we talk about being okay. When I say “you’re okay”, what I mean is I’m not judging the way you live your life, your thoughts and emotions or your choices as good or bad. They are what they are. They’re all yours, and they’re all valid.
What you’re feeling is okay. What you want and don’t want are also okay. What you feel you can’t do is okay, and what you want to do is also okay. There will be things you do you regret, and things you don’t do you regret, but it’s all okay. It really is. Forget about normal. What’s normal anyway? If you abide by statistics, then something which happens to every second person in the general population – like cancer – could be said to be “normal.”
Is cancer normal?
Did it feel anything like what normal is supposed to feel like to you?
Let’s just forget the concept of normal, and let’s go for okay instead, okay?
Is cancer okay? Is having cancer okay? Absolutely not.
Are you okay? Yes, you are. Is everything you think and feel because of cancer okay? Sure is. Will everything be okay, regardless of what happens, or whether everything goes back to how it was before?
I believe so.
When it comes down to it, you’re probably not normal.
But you are okay.
If you like this post, please *like* it here, and share it on Facebook. You can also Tweet it to your friends.