It took me about three years, after my diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma in 2010 and after the treatment and stem cell transplant that saved my life, to start recognizing cancer’s true life-changing consequences. By the Fall of 2014, I had moved back to Michigan, where I grew up, to be closer to family in the event of the inevitable, or at least, I told myself, probable relapse, which came this Fall. Life has changed. My recent cross-town move, more so than the intra-state move, two years previous is cementing this recognition.
I am not always this philosophical. But this move with its logistical and other challenges, has prompted a better acceptance of my mortality, or at least a more realistic understanding of my needs, lifestyle, abilities and my personal priorities.
It’s a learning process, having a cancer diagnosis. I finally started accepting it when I anxiously attended my first Central NJ Support Group about two years into the diagnosis. I tried returning to work, which I realized, after a year, was extremely unrealistic, as was home ownership in one of the country’s most expensive regions. It actually took me a few months of therapy to accept the fact that I was a candidate for Disability Insurance. In our community, we call this realizing the “New Normal.”
My lifestyle of commuting to NYC for a Marketing Research job, owning a lovely home in fabulous Plainfield, NJ, and gardening, entertaining and attending parties every weekend is in the past. I live in a much smaller place, and I’m “downsizing my stuff” again. Asking yourself what you’ll do with six platters, four pitchers, 24 stemless white and red wine glasses, not to mention all the stemware can make you think about where you used to be, where you are now, and who is going to have to deal with this “stuff” should you pass away too soon.
I suppose most of us get attached to things, and sometimes that’s okay. Most humans are materialists in some way, and we like the things we use, and certain items appeal to us. Some of us are better at holding an item and asking if we have had a relationship with in the past two years, and if the answer is no – putting it in the give-away box. I can say that I love being able to vacuum the entire place in thirty minutes or less, and having only one bathroom to clean.
My current lifestyle includes porch gardening; playing with my nephews — 5 years old and 23 months — four-hour weekend shifts at a gourmet store in the mall; meeting with friends and seeking out more social opportunities. My days are filled with yoga at the Cancer Support Community, warm water classes at the Fitness Center, and, of course, doctor appointments. I’m on a clinical trial at the University of Michigan and it’s going great, with excellent labs, and I feel good most days. My health is my priority, and I am a lot better at saying “no” to commitments that might compromise that.
As a Cancer Hope Network Volunteer, one of the things I hear from the more recently diagnosed is “I just want my life back.” The truth is this is your life. I don’t hit them with that phrasing, but I try and nudge them toward it, helping them along the rocky journey I’ve made myself. They need to process it in their own time, and hopefully they get there, like I seem to be doing.
Perhaps we could all benefit from being a bit more mindful of our “New Normal.” This changes as we age, experience loss, and face challenges to our health, finances, family and social relationships. Maybe we can revisit it periodically and ask ourselves if the way we are spending our time, the people we spend it with and the “stuff” we seem to accumulate are contributing to or taking away from the joy and the peace we really need.
Cultivating a lifestyle of mindfulness is easier said than done, particularly if you have children, a stressful job and/or other family commitments. And, being alone is also not always easy. No matter what situation you find yourself in, I have found that it helps to stop and recognize that there is no “life you are getting to.”
Maybe it’s a lifestyle or lifestage – a process that we can work on a little bit every day. I have learned over the past few years that recognizing this is the key to staying healthy, and without that, nothing else matters.
Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2010, Suzanne received induction chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant in 2011 followed by ongoing medical therapy as part of a clinical trial. She has been a CHN Support Volunteer since 2013.