There is no doubt that you turn into a bubble boy when you have a condition that causes your immune system to become depressed. The doctors say to live a normal life, but that “normal life” includes carrying hand sanitizer around with you everywhere you go and wearing one of those face masks that scream “I am sick” in large crowds. So, to me, that’s not my normal. My normal was being able to do whatever, whenever I wanted. I could hop on a train into the city at any time. I could order Chinese food from a questionable establishment without having to give it a second thought. I could go to the mall at the drop of a hat. But now, I have a new normal. Public transportation will only be used at certain times of the month, Chinese takeout is pretty much not a thing anymore, and the mall is off limits when my counts are low. *SCIENCE LESSON*: When I say “counts,” I am referring to my blood counts. Red blood cells, platelets, and the most important, white blood cells. Our WBCs fight off infections, and that same chemo that kills off cancer cells like a boss, also kills off healthy cells, like an annoying boss (hence why your hair falls out). So at a certain time after I get chemo, those counts drop to low rates and that’s when I have to avoid crowds and sketchy foods and nasty sick people. *SCIENCE LESSON OVER*
As a 22 year old, who has just spent the last 4 years of her life living in an environment of sharing drinks, ordering out more than cooking, and pretty much being able to do whatever I wanted without thinking about getting sick, this new normal is a huge adjustment.
When I imagined my life after graduation, I pictured myself moving out, working at a hospital, traveling, and spending my time off at happy hours and bottomless brunches and enjoying time with friends. Since my diagnosis, I have struggled with deciding what I can and cannot do. When I was first diagnosed, I thought I would never be able to do anything. Even before chemo started, my plans were restricted due to going through the egg freezing process (a pretty interesting, but pesky one). And then once chemo started, I’m out of commission for the couple days following because of debilitating nausea and exhaustion. Then once I start to feel better, the weekend is over, and then my counts drop.
But, as I am starting to learn how my new body works, I have gotten a better grasp on what I am capable of doing and when I should take a time-out. Last weekend, I did something that is my old normal: I took a train into the city to have brunch with my friends. However, there was a new normal twist: I was ordered by my mom to wear a scarf around my mouth on the train. I aim to please, so I obliged, and it actually worked out for the best because it was freakishly cold that day. Another old normal: I have started working again. The new normal twist: It’s not a hospital- I split my time between an insurance office I’ve been working at since high school and the boutique the woman I babysit for owns. I work when I’m feeling up to it and both places have been amazing with accommodating that.
And the biggest old normal thing I’ve gotten to do to date: I WENT TO HOMECOMING THIS WEEKEND! The new normal twist: I went for one day, had hand sanitizer in my bag and gave it out like Halloween candy, cut back on the alcohol, and went home before closing at Grottos. The compliments on my hair flowed in at the same rate of slater consumption in the bar and it was AMAZING to see people that I haven’t seen in months. A random man that I didn’t know even came up and stroked my head- both weird and flattering at the same time. It made my heart and soul happy to be able to go, even if it was for just a day. Shout out to my mom for letting me out of her field of vision, you’re the real MVP.
It’s the little things in your life that have become the big things in mine, and for now, I’m totally OK with that. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and that I’m gaining back the ability to read my body and know my limits. And besides, this new normal is only temporary. (Hopefully) With nine more chemo treatments, I should be back to the hospital as an employee, back to the nights out with friends, and back to ordering chicken Lo Mein from a place that has two stars on Yelp and a possible health code violation (don’t act like that’s disgusting because I know you do the same).
It’s alright to burst that bubble occasionally. I have to remind myself daily that cancer revolves around me and my plans, I do not revolve around it. And at times, it seems actually impossible to do, but cancer is stupid. And I don’t let stupid things get in my way.
Happy Halloween! I hate this holiday and would rather celebrate Arbor Day three times a year in place of it, but I enjoy the candy and hope you do, too.