How to Return to Normal Life after Being Diagnosed with Cancer

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • One of the hardest things to adjust to, after you’ve faced your mortality decades before that task was penciled into your Filofax, is how to return to normal life after the Big Scare.

    As someone who lives a lot in my own head, getting back to normal took hours of solitary reflection, leading to some definitive conclusions. One: I was not going to let my life be defined by a disease, or ruined by obsessive worry. Nor did I want my daughters, ages 5 and 8 when I was diagnosed, to have a big black cloud hanging over their childhoods. My father had died of a sudden heart attack when I was eight, and I know a lot about black cloud childhoods.
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    All I’ve got is today. So enjoy it. The truth is, all anyone has is today, but most people are not as acutely aware of it as those who have faced a potentially life-threatening disease. Life after cancer equals the human condition. The cancer may come back tomorrow. If it does, why waste today? And if it doesn’t, why waste today?

    This where The Closet comes in.

    To live according to my new philosophy of Enjoy Today, It’s All I Have, I needed a place to put my fear. So I invented The Closet. I store the fear in there and shut the door tight. After awhile, as life goes on, The Closet gets stuffed with all the shoes and tennis rackets and coats and soccer balls of daily existence. The fear is still there, of course, but it’s buried under the ski jackets. But every so often, something happens to pry open the door and the fear comes tumbling out. And it takes a few days to stuff it back in.

    Here are some of my personal door openers: A friend or acquaintance or a celebrity or a stranger someone tells me about gets breast cancer. Or dies of breast cancer. Or dies for another reason. Or I read an obituary of someone my age or younger. Or it’s mammogram time. Or someone, like Dr. Post Doc says something stupid.

    After nearly ten years, the door doesn’t swing open nearly as often nor as widely as it once did. When it does open, I’m more adept at slamming the door shut again. Days, weeks, sometimes even months can pass without the door opening just a crack. But even when The Closet stays boarded up for months, or gets renovated into a smaller place, I can’t imagine that the day will ever come when I will live anywhere that doesn’t have The Closet. It’s part of my permanent mental landscape.
Published On: October 02, 2005