Following the upheaval of World War I, Warren Harding took to the campaign trail in 1920 promising a “return to normalcy.” It worked, sort of. At the very least, Americans bought it, and Harding won the election (only to die two years later). But I’m not sure the nation ever actually “returned to normal.” It just continued to exist, the best it could, in the postwar era.
I’m more sure about my own prospect of a return to normalcy: nonexistent. To be morbid for a moment, they say the worst part of grieving over the death of a loved one comes after the initial whirlwind. After the funeral. After the messages, visitors, and well-wishes dry up. Those things soften the initial blow, for sure. But they also delay the inevitable – the time when, like it or not, you have to adjust to a new reality. One you don’t like, didn’t ask for, and aren’t quite sure how to deal with.
In many ways, I feel like a completely different human being these days. In nine months, I graduated from law school, took the bar exam, moved out of Ann Arbor, was diagnosed with cancer, was treated for cancer, went into remission, moved to a new city, and started a new job. Everyone deal with most of those things – most of my law school friends went through everything except for the cancer part. But there’s no doubt those are pretty significant life events. Each one changing you more and more, until one night, you’re sitting in a pile of tax forms, bills, student loan docs, and medical records, wondering what the hell just happened to your life.
The hardest part is just trying to live on a day-to-day basis. I’m working now, living with the girlfriend, getting settled into DC, and so on. I’m supposed to get up in the morning and go to work, ride the bus, pay bills, cook dinner, clean the apartment, and so on, just like everybody else. All the while, it’s like the Universe is telling me, “Act normal.” And I’m just like, “Act normal?! You just tried to #$!%ing kill me! And now you want me to act normal?!” Somebody just took a shot at my head and I got grazed by the bullet. Excuse me if I’m not ready to let my guard down yet.
But there is a point – and this is what I’m moving toward – where you have to move on. Of course, moving on means punting life-altering decisions one month down the road, always looking ahead to the next doctor’s appointment, and dealing with the reality of having an increased risk of developing other serious health problems for the rest of my life. But I deal with those things the way I’ve dealt with most of this junk – with little more than a shoulder shrug. Because like so many things throughout this ordeal, there’s just not that much I can do about it. So why bother?
That doesn’t mean that nothing has changed. In fact, virtually everything has. My habits, my diet, my routine, my worldview. It’s just that, with so many changes in such a short period of time, I’m not sure how much of that is attributable to cancer, or how much is attributable to, say, not being a student for the first time in 20 years, or being in a new city, or starting a job. Closing the bar on a Tuesday night would be frowned upon at this stage in my life whether or not my armpit exploded this summer.
Dr. Anderson was right: It’s easier to deal with cancer when you actually have cancer. Of course, that’s a conditional statement. But it’s essentially true. When I was actively fighting to Get Rid of the Seaward (hey that’s the name of the site!), I spent every moment of every day fighting, and I could focus all of my energy on doing just that. Now, I’m supposed to focus on a million other things at once, often pretending that absolutely nothing is or was ever wrong, and that’s tough sometimes.
But so was dealing with cancer. The fact that something is tough isn’t an excuse to let it control you or adversely impact the way you go about your life. So sometimes, when I wonder how I’m going to deal with all this, I just remind myself that I don’t have to. Just go on living my life. Control what I can control and beyond that, whatever. I think the most important part of dealing with the aftermath, so to speak, is realizing that you don’t really deal with it. In fact, you can’t. And if you try, you’re just going to burn yourself out.
So really, I just go through my days like Peter from Office Space. Not in the sense that I don’t care about my job and wear sweatpants to work – I actually really like my job. But I just carry a very “eh” attitude around these days, if that makes sense. It’s rather fatalistic, but it’s realistic too I think. After cancer, everything else just isn’t as serious as it once seemed. Nor is there any reason to spend any time worrying about the future, because it’s not going to do anything for me.
Sometimes, the easiest way to return to normalcy is to figure out that there’s no way that will ever happen.