My first introduction to the National Bone Marrow Transplant Link (nbmtLINK) was viewing “The New Normal” on a VCR in bed at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The focus of that video’s message is paramount in the conscious choice I made to thrive in all ways possible after dealing with the initial treatment plan for my diagnosed disease.
I point this out, not because I wasn’t interested in peace and contentment before the diagnosis; but because our abilities, limits, stamina, and often our preferences, change when we have survived a dance with death that has lasting effects. All of these consequences really are a new normal. It was necessary for me to identify where I needed to make changes to accommodate altered abilities, figure out what I could change, and what was unchangeable. “Accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
These realities remain daily tasks, but it has become far more intuitive over time than it was immediately after treatment.
How did these changes transpire? Initially, there was a long period of shock and sadness because in some fundamental ways, I was grieving the loss of the person I had once been.
To the extent that my identity was based on my career, I had a grieving process going on; not because I chose to retire with years of planning preceding a retirement date. The reality was that one day I came home from work and the next day I went to the hospital and never again stepped foot in my workplace of 25 years. As for self-awareness in a physical sense, it was that the body that I was accustomed to taking on eight-mile runs to begin every day, and loving the endorphin high that could result whenever I wanted, was no longer cooperating.
These events are just a couple of examples of the old normal. Although I had periods of resentment at the circumstances, the resentments were simply so much free rental space in my head; and they needed to end. But the grieving process lasted a while. Change is unavoidable and sometimes quite unwelcome.
In the longer term, I have come to understand more clearly, over time, what my physical limits are without constantly comparing today’s normal with yesterday’s normal. The most profound physical change for me since treatment ended has been the need for tremendously long periods of sleep. Whereas I functioned quite well rising with the sun and getting six or seven hours of sleep each night for decades before the diagnosis, I now require eleven or twelve hours in every twenty-four hour period. My daily life patterns before and after treatment are seemingly unrecognizable. The process of accepting the realities of these alterations without battling the new normal simply because I don’t like it, has allowed me to learn to thrive in different ways.
One day, I was at a follow-up appointment with the amazing oncological nurse practitioner who was assigned to me for the duration of treatment. She was looking at the results of that day’s blood draw and adjusting medications; I was in a full-on depression, talking about the option of ending my life. She became really stern, glared at me through very thick glasses and said, “We didn’t spend all this time, money, and energy saving your life for you to just choose to end it!” As blunt as that sounds, it got my attention while also clarifying that the adjustment process from diagnosis into a new normal is a slow evolution, complete with each person’s set of emotions, including but not limited to sadness, anger, depression, denial, grieving and often, elation.
What works today, as a matter of daily pattern, includes finding ways to be of some form of service to other people. It shouldn’t be surprising to find out that we cannot be obsessed with our own frustrations, pain, troubles or anxieties while focusing on someone else’s needs. The two don’t seem to happen simultaneously. The Dali Lama has been pointing this out for a while now.
Soon after treatment, while working my way safely back into daily life after treatment I met someone who was involved with a small non-profit near me that specializes in bringing extremely nutrition-rich organic meals to cancer patients who, like I had been, are unable to shop, cook or even begin to understand how to optimally feed themselves while the cancer alone eats 3000 calories a day. That has become part of every week for over twelve years and, as previously stated, it provides a vacation from myself, my worries and my self-centered concerns.
If asked what the most effective methods for thriving in this new normal have been, they would include making a routine of being of service to other human beings. Another thing … I try to remember to laugh at anything that contains the slightest hint of humor or irony.
As I wrap up this guest blog series, I hope that I have helped at least one person in their life-saving transplant journey. I wish everyone reading this a wonderful, satisfying new normal post-transplant.
Editor’s Note: If you would like to reach out to David after reading this series, he kindly and willingly welcomes your questions and comments. David’s email is email@example.com