Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My New Normal

"Mom? Can I have breakfast?"  Greta's voice reaches me through a deep sleep.

"Sure," I mumble, glancing at the clock. It's 7:14am; Greta wakes me up at the exact same time every morning.

I swing my legs to the floor, thinking about the day: Greta has a birthday party today, gotta buy a present. Finn needs to bring a donation to school today, have to finish that jewelry order.

Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I pad into the bathroom, splash cool water on my face and reach for my toothbrush. Glancing in the mirror, my stomach does a little flip-flop as my eyes rest on the lump on the left side of my neck.  Oh yeah, I think. Cancer.

I shake the thought from my head and finish brushing my teeth without looking in the mirror.

Downstairs it is the usual whirlwind of activity - packing lunches, finding shoes, hats and gloves. The kids pepper me with questions: does the Elf on the Shelf get cold when he flies back to the North Pole every night? How many days until Christmas? Can I have a play date today?

I move effortlessly through the finely choreographed dance that is our mornings, deftly answering questions while finding a stray sneaker under the couch.  The familiarity of it soothes me, even as I try to ignore the new, silent soundtrack to my life: will I be able to do all this in a few weeks, after treatment starts?

The kids twirl in the driveway as they wait for the bus; their breath puffing white in the cold. I wrap my hands around my coffee mug, treasuring its warmth.  Enjoy it now, comes the unwelcome thought, when you need the feeding tube there won't be any point to coffee anymore.

The bus rumbles to a stop at the end of our driveway, and I wave and shout: "Love you!  Have a great day!" like I do every morning.  The bus pulls away, and I walk back into the house. Its silence makes me edgy.

I pull a huge load of clean, dry laundry out of the dryer and walk upstairs to fold, grateful for the strength in my body. I'm told I will be very tired.  I don't grumble about doing laundry anymore; the normalcy of this small chore feels like a gift.

As I fold the clothes and put them away, my mind wanders to darker thoughts. I try to push them away.  Don't go there until you get there, I think, rolling a piece of advice from a member of my cancer support group around in my head.  But the darkness persists, poking its unwelcome nose into my day.

This is my new normal, the reality of my days as I wait for radiation and chemotherapy to start next week.  I can go for little stretches of time where I don't remember, where life feels like it always did, and then wham - I hit a little speed bump, a thought or fear drops into my head and I remember:  cancer.

Eight days until treatment starts, I think.  Eight long days of waiting, wondering what it will be like.  I start to make a list of everything I need to do to clear my decks, prepare for treatment:  firm up the babysitter, type up a schedule of the kids' activities, clear out the freezer, finish up jewelry orders... the list goes on and on, and it makes me feel overwhelmed.

I crumple up the paper and make a new list:

1) Accept
2) Surrender
3) Trust
4) Don't go there until you get there

Then, after some thought, I smile and add one more item to the list:

5) EAT

I will enjoy every treat, every warm meal, every cup of coffee, every dessert over this holiday season.  I will lose weight on the feeding tube, I will lose my sense of taste for months during and after radiation treatment, so I'm going to wallow in food for the next two weeks.

The panic that was stirring in my gut settles down as I gaze at my list.  One moment at a time, I think, just like recovery.  I'm only truly miserable when I resist my situation, when I wish things could be different than they are.  Accepting something you desperately don't want to be true is hard, but it works.  It brings peace of mind, even during the worst of the fear. 

I can do this moment, I think.  In this moment, I'm okay.  Now, on the next one. 

 This post is part of Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary's link-up, Just Write, where we - well, just write.  Unedited, unscripted and straight from the heart. To join us, click here.


  1. I know this doesn't compare. Or maybe it does. Or maybe it doesn't matter if it compares, or not... You reminded me and I want to share-

    My aunt broke her neck in a car wreck years ago.... As she recovered, a common phrase in our family was "you can't worry about what you don't know about."
    Reminds me of your "don't go there until you get there."

    I like your phrase. Hold it close, and remember it. It will help you through.

    Sending prayers and thoughts of strength.

  2. As someone who struggles with anxiety I love your #4 - Don't go there until you get there. Thank you for the reminder to enjoy every moment. Praying you can hold onto these moments on the hard days of treatment...and that the treatments bring you healing.

  3. I love your #4. I have a huge problem with thinking too far ahead. That should be one of your jewelry mottos. Thinking of you, Ellie :) Also, I think you should use your #5 to try some foods you were maybe scared to try before, or some fruit you've never had before.

  4. I like the idea of don't go there until you get there, very practical. I suspect the treatment will be neither as bad as you fear, nor as good as you hope. Like most things in life it will have a beginning which will be a let down because nothing seems to happen, and it will seem to last forever, and suddenly be over and we ask "what happened? how did I get through all of this?"

    Somehow nature and our Higher Power give us the grace to endure and adjust, and you will have many on your journey with your.


    Mike L

  5. Don't go there until you get there. Words of wisdom. Thinking of you!

  6. Oh Ellie, I kept reading and shaking my head like "No". I so badly want this to NOT be true for you. I hope you enjoy all those treats to the fullest and you've made me cherish the laundry I will do today AND the strength to do it. Many hugs for you... one day at a time, my friend. xo

  7. Ellie,
    I think about you every day. Wish I could talk to you - you are so brilliant. Thank you for being unafraid to share. It matters.

  8. Someone told me once "Peace is not the absence of trouble, it is the presence of Jesus". That brings me comfort - hope it does for you too.

  9. You are doing good, and you will make it through this! The roller coaster is inevitable, but I can see that you are handing this with grace. I am rooting for you!

  10. I cannot imagine how your reality must shift after hearing that word as a diagnosis. My thoughts are still with you as you navigate this path.

    Beautiful writing.

  11. Sending healthy and warm thoughts to you. Beautifully written.

  12. Ellie

    I am two years out from stage four tonsil cancer that spread to a lymph node. I am as of today cancer free. I did 35 days of radiation and two cycles of chemotherapy (cisplatin). I did not lose my hair, by the way, but I dont have to shave anymore on the right side of my face! I had no radiation burns, either. Treatment is hard, I wont lie. It will beat you up. But there is life after treatment. I am "near" normal again. (I am on thyroid medication, and my saliva didn't quite return so much, so I drink a lot of water... but I taste my food, I eat almost everything (except spicy food) and I am working out at the gym. Yes, eat everything you can and enjoy it all...I dropped 30 pounds in 35 days, but I have put back about 20 pounds in the two years since, and I didn't need that last 10! Learn to take life each day as it comes. You will make it. I am sending you a hug, and a prayer for strength and courage. I will read of your journey...it is a journey, and you will learn more than you can imagine. I blogged my journey with a blog called "deeper than cancer." Some of it was depressing...but I have great joy in my life again. So will you!

  13. Tell Steve that I hope that he holds up as well as you are..take one large dose of courage and know that there are alot of people who are silently holding your hand thru this stage.

  14. Thinking of you and letting you know that you are being held up to the Universe's Healing Power every day as you walk this unfamiliar path.

  15. Wallow away, honey - wallow all you want! Eat everything - seriously!

    So glad you are able to stay in the moment. Just stay. We are right here with you.

    More love, more peace, more ease to you and yours...

  16. I remain so blown away by you. Thinking of you and sending healing and comfort. Thank you for giving me the same. xoxo

  17. A new normal needs a new list. You've come up with a great one, Ellie!

    RE "don't go there until you get there" - there is some real wisdom in that and it will serve as a great tool to get you through parts of the days that lie ahead.

    At the same time, I hope you don't try to enforce this with sheer willpower. You are a brilliant, imaginative woman. Looking forward is part of what you do! You're going to have moments of "going there." What lies ahead is a big deal, so anticipating it some is natural, even necessary processing. Accept that as part of the now, too.

    Don't "should" on yourself because it is Christmas: you "should" be happy, grateful, present ... etc. Feel all you need to feel. Yes, even the fear. Don't be afraid of the fear. Know that you don't have to get stuck in it, that you can "go there" now and then, as needed, but that you can gently pulling yourself back to other parts of your reality. Allow others to help you do that, too, to be the ones who bear the gifts of the present moment to you.

    You are bound to feel some of that shitty stuff of grief during the days ahead. I wish it weren't so, but I hope you will also feel blessed and amazed, because that is altogether possible, too.

    Hang in there ...

  18. Peace be to you. May it fill your heart, your mind, your soul, and your spirit. May it be a beacon of light for you. May it become with you. I wish you peace, Ellie! I truly wish you all the peace in the world.


  19. Yes, yes you CAN do this moment.

    {My heart is with you, Ellie}

  20. I have pondered the thought that when you get a cancer diagnosis how you add that to the part of your day. Because bills still need to get paid, laundry still gets dirty, there is just the boring GRUB part of living and then there are the stressful parts that take work and then you add, "Beat Cancer" to that list.

    You are a beautiful human being, Ellie. And I love your list - that may go up on a wall here somewhere. I can't add #5 - EAT though...too many Weight Watchers points and I'm trying to fit back in my jeans.

    You, however....do need to enjoy and savor your favorite foods during this time.

    Hugs, love and healing prayers.

  21. There's so much collective love and healing prayers being sent your way, Ellie. You are an amazing woman with gifts that you share with so many. May you feel the power of love and gratitude that is being returned to you.

    Christine, xo

  22. In appreciation of the mundane, oh, yes.

    Life, tough enough as it is...without chemo and radiation thrown in.

    Praying for your strength of spirit...and praying you feel our intense love for you.

  23. If you knew my family you'd know why I'm saying this but, I'd love to know what foods you're going to make an effort to eat before treatment. What are your favorites old and new, everyday and special occasion? #1 Coffee. #2?

    I'll be thinking of you.

  24. You have had a lot coming at you, my friend. But it sounds like you still get up everyday, put your feet on the floor, and brush your teeth. May you continue to find your crystal clear moments...when life bursts forth to you with a clarity heretofore never yet known. Keep a journal Ellie while you go through this. I think you will be VERY glad you did one day. Best to you and your family, wrapping you in love and light.

  25. I come here to support you, and every time you lift me.

    Go figure.

  26. I Albert Felix will forever be indebted to the great and powerful man Doctor Isibor for his great and mighty work he did for me , he saved me from an everlasting pain, and this is why i wont stop sharing his name on the internet, because he deserve more than this, if only i can express how i feel towards him. I got married to my wife for the past 5yrs now without a child and i became a laughing stock, people described me in different manner of ways of which i became worried and was not comfortable with the situation anymore, so i searched for a means to wipe the pain away from my eyes but all what i tried did not work out, until a friend of mine introduced me to the great and mighty man DOCTOR ISIBOR, i was not comfortable with the idea because men like him has failed me so many times, but my friend convinced me and told me i should have faith and trust him and do what so ever he tells me to do without a second thought and that all will be fine, i did all what he told me and behold my wife and i are happily blessed with two children , and from that day i made a promise that i will make him known all over the world, he is a nice man and he deals on all kinds of spell, you can contact him on his email: Doctorisiborspelltemple@hotmail.com, or you can whatsapp him on his mobile number: +2348138900575, website:http://doctorisiborspelltemple.webs.com/