Cancer: Navigating my new normal

When you hear the words “it’s cancer”, your whole life changes. You don’t get any choice in the change however you do get to choose how you respond to the change.

When I received my diagnosis I went numb inside and then tried to ignore it. I went from denial to what I thought was acceptance as I tried to pick up my pre-cancer life once my active treatment was over. I returned to full time work, filled my weekends socialising and planned globetrotting adventures. 

It wasn’t long before I crashed and burnt, emotionally and physically. Pretending I was the same person I was before my cancer diagnosis wasn’t going to work.

Navigating to a new normal

Burnt out, I became focussed on everything that had changed. My thinking was stuck on the things I could no longer do and I let them frustrate me. In an effort to process all the life changes cancer brings, I tried to navigate my way to a new normal. But when you navigate, you have a clear path and know where you’re going. I couldn’t follow the path to the future I’d planned so what was I meant to do? 

Then I heard the term “way finding”. Way finding helped me visualise the process of creating my new normal. When you way find you don’t know where you are, you don’t exactly know where you’re going and you don’t have information between the two points. Way finding is all about small, incremental steps in a very squiggly line. 

Creating change

Two years post diagnosis I’d found a way to process change – way finding. But where to start? The turning point for me was when I stopped focussing on what I couldn’t do and the future I’d lost. I realised I had the opportunity to set an entirely new path, to design my life. What were my priorities now? What made me smile? It was up to me to decide what I wanted my future to be and then to make it happen.

I realised I needed to make a change but I wasn’t sure exactly what needed to change. I understood I had the opportunity to redesign my life but how the hell was I supposed to do it when there was no clear path? I reached out and asked for counselling. Talking through the life changes, my worries and fears led to discovering new opportunities and revised priorities. I made a list of all my concerns and worries and focussed on the few things I could control; what made me happy and gave me a sense of purpose. With this in mind, I designed my new life and set about creating it. 

Squiggly steps

The process of creating the change – the way finding was full of small squiggly steps. At time it felt like I was failing but then it all came into place and the mental and physical effort was worth it. I was reminded by a friend that everything looks like failure in the middle. She likened it to renovating a house. The process is messy, definitely not straight forward and looks like a failure in the middle but the end result is a new, redesigned house.

So, how did I redesign my life? Well, I ended up making some significant changes. I took early retirement and relocated back to New Zealand to be nearer family. I now get my sense of purpose through Chadders’ Cancer Club which helps others to live a life of no regrets.

In 2010, Kris Chadwick started a blog to raise awareness of brain tumours which then went on to become her blog, Chadders’ Cancer Club in 2018 when she received her diagnosis.

Smile is a mental health app for people managing chronic physical health conditions. Download now from Google Play or ​Apple App store