Saturday, 30 June 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ The New Normal

"The "new normal" also means facing a new reality. One which we didn't choose."

What is the "new normal" after a diagnosis of primary or secondary breast cancer?

This was the question we asked in this week's discussion.

People tend to speak of the "new normal" in relation to the process of adjusting to life after a cancer diagnosis, often when active treatment has finished, when the physical demands on us have receded somewhat, allowing us time to reflect and to "find our new normal."

In our experience, the phrase "new normal" is actually an ambiguous term used to convey somewhat contradictory ideas - firstly, a fresh way of being, suggesting the idea of a new start, and secondly, the process of adjustment to a reduced or more limited way of being and learning how to manage the different roles that make up our identities.

Our discussion, which included women with primary and secondary breast cancer, highlighted that one aspect of our "new normal" meant living according to our changed values, changed health, changed energy, perhaps with a new appreciation for what was important to us, and was coloured by gratitude and opportunity. It was idealistic. It was fruitful.

The kinds of things we might hear or say to ourselves from this perspective are - "You must really appreciate your life now." "Go and be happy." "You have a second chance." "Make the most of your life."

However, this is just one part of how we feel. Alongside our desire to make the most of our life and explore new opportunities, we are also often dealing with ongoing side-effects, and, anxiety about recurrence or progression of disease. Some of us were also dealing with particularly challenging physical and psychological side-effects as a result of treatment, or secondary breast cancer.

These different factors meant our actual experiences of "normal" were a bit different. Some of us felt we had lost sight of what "normal" was any more. Others of us experienced a gap between what we expected or hoped for ourselves, and our new reality. Some of us were striving to return to previous ways of being, such as resuming careers, whilst others had been forced to make significant changes and the "new normal" meant a new home, job or relationship.

Naz explained that psychologically, the new normal is a hard process of establishment, to try to reach some kind of stability that is inevitably still evolving through time. We have changed, yes, but the changes are not a means to an end and are ongoing and evolving.The "new normal" is not static but is a dynamic process and at times we can feel at the grip of forces outside our control.

The "new normal" comes with gratitude. We have insights and a belief that we can get the most out of every day. It can bring opportunities that only we can appreciate. Ones that make sense to us.

The "new normal" also means facing a new reality. One which we didn't choose. It brings limitations that beg us to dig deeper, either to do the things we once took for granted and are now a struggle, or, to make changes so that we can continue to function meaningfully in our our lives. We have to learn how to make things work for us within the changed frameworks we have.

Are we more challenged?

Yes we are. We face challenges that are tough to handle. Challenges that come with acceptance of our limitations and in tackling them. We continue nevertheless.

We were not sure how to define our new normal. We decided we would not call it "normal" as it's unpredictable, a challenging normal and lacks stability. We thought one of the most appealing aspects about our "new normal" were our opportunities to challenge and change, for the better, and to recognise that we are ever changing.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and would like to join our private group, please send us a private message via

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