Don’t Touch That Thermostat
There are two things that a cancer patient wants to hear after being told “remission”, enjoy your “new normal”, and you’re never really done with cancer. But we get detoured when we hear the word “remission”, our thoughts do not go towards new normal, but rather a mythical 5-year mark. Decades ago, you were considered a low enough risk, if you had been in remission for five years. Coincidentally, around that time, is when I lost contact with my doctors. And of course, when we are told it is gone, we want it gone. It is hard enough to look over our shoulders not just every day, but every minute, “is it going to come back?”
Today, I want to talk about that “new normal”. Decades ago, the “new normal” was never even mentioned. As a cancer survivor, you were not expected to live long enough to have many things, late effects, a future, and barely any time to develop a new normal. But what exactly is a new normal?
Several years ago, patient support groups started throwing the term “new normal” around. It was meant to imply a brand new beginning of your life. Perhaps it was a chance to start over. Maybe you would have a chance to “do over” and correct mistakes that you felt that you have made. The new normal was about what you could and could not do.
Later, Doctors would catch on to this motivational tool, to help their patients gear up for the return of life as patients get back some resemblence of control. Two days ago, I learned this concept of “new normal” perhaps goes much further than that. And I would argue, that without looking and recognizing this idea, it will be impossible to find a physical new normal as so many, including myself, struggle to do. So, from the advice of one of my doctors…
How often in your home or office (or other work environment) have you had a disagreement on temperature settings on the thermostat? Too hot! too cold! Every one takes their turn at setting the thermostat to what they think is the correct temperature. All the while, because everyone is giving their input by adjusting the thermostat, the system is never given the chance to do what it needs to do, to provide the comfort level that the thermostat is set for. No matter if the area is the size of a living, or a warehouse floor, if you have the thermostat set for 75 degrees, but it is currently 76, instead of waiting for the temperature to drop one more degree, you adjust the device to 73 or 72 because there is no way that just that one degree will make it cooler as it needs. We expect the thermostat to adjust to us, not the other way around.
The first stage of the new normal works like that as well. In order for us to reach the physical new normal, we have to reach the emotional and mental new normal first. So using the thermostat as the example, you, the patient are the thermostat. Your family or your co-workers are the ones who are constantly trying to get you to change the air temperature and never give you the chance to do so. When someone close to you does not understand that today might not be a good day for you (either physically or emotionally), how often do you go out of your way to accomodate everyone else. Frequently adjusting the thermostat to get comfort, just because it is not happening quick enough, is not normal. Friends and family must, MUST, accomodate to us. We are the thermostat. They must give us the opportunity to work. It does no good to force us anymore than adjusting air temperature. Before our diagnosis, this behavior was normal. Probably none of us would ever give anyone an opportunity to work or do something for us without accomodating us if we pushed. This is normal. But now, we have to live the new normal. And it starts here. Our temperatures have been set. Put a box over that “thermostat” and lock it. Do not let anyone else change the setting.
This is not going to be easy. After all, how often have you been to a grocery store, in the checkout isle and there is a mother with a three year old child. The child begins to throw a tantrum because it wants candy that has strategically been placed in the isle for impulse buying. If the mother gives in, she actually encourages that child to continue that behavior. This is not normal. But one day, she will grow weary of the tantrums and want them to stop. She will be able to get them to stop, but only after time and effort, and patience. It will not happen overnight. But it will happen. This would be the new normal for the mother.
Once you reach this level of new normal, the physical new normal is much easier to deal with. I never got this advice until this past week. I am a survivor of cancer for over 22 years, heart surgery for over 4 years, and various other physical issues. I have struggled to find my new normal, but as I come to realize, I was only trying to achieve the physical normal first. I need to have the emotional new normal first, and the rest will fall into place.