As a survivor of a rare, inherited form of colorectal cancer, called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), I can share some wisdom gained during almost a decade of constant change to find my “new normal.”
There is much talk these days around the “new normal.” Which leads us to believe that there was a normal life to begin with. With so many different body types, mind-sets, lifestyles — who is to say what is normal?
Now we have the coronavirus pandemic, complete with home quarantine, social distancing and face masks. This is where patience really kicks life up a notch. Is this to be our new norm? I’m OK with wearing masks in public. When I see a people wearing a mask, I’m thankful for their consideration in trying to keep our community safe. For someone like me, with a compromised immune system, I view not wearing a mask as a lack of empathy and consideration for others. I don’t even notice masks anymore, but I do notice when someone is not wearing a mask inside a store or in public restrooms. Think about that — on a good day, restrooms are full of germs, now add coronavirus, yuck!
When it comes to adapting to a “new normal,” here’s the bottom line: While change can occur suddenly, adapting takes time, so be patient. Here are other lessons I learned about change:
Change is learned in stages. Show compassion while change comes together. During the surgery to remove my colon, my surgeon created an internal “pouch” to act as my colon. I wanted it to work so badly. I tried everything to make it successful: changed my diet, changed the time of day I would eat, added fiber before a meal to slow down digestion. I was fortunate that my friends and family were patient, showing compassion with all my trips to the restrooms or being late to a movie or dinner reservation. In the end, the pouch didn’t work. I had to embrace more change for the betterment of my health.
Coronavirus is teaching most of us compassion while we experiment with change for the sake of our national health. Wearing masks is an easy adjustment to make. Social distancing takes practice — I used to hug everyone hello — now I give a nod. We can learn to show empathy in a productive, positive way. If you can sew, make masks for your local hospital; read about COVID-19 and how and why it spreads, and why it hits Black communities hardest; and, learn about how wearing your own mask protects others. If you’re immune compromised, like me, read about the many charities that will help our struggling communities come together without jeopardizing our own compromised health.
Change is accepted and experienced differently by everyone. Don’t pass judgment. My new normal started eight years ago when I was diagnosed with FAP colorectal cancer. Up until that point, I considered myself flexible and open to change and new ideas. That is until some of those new ideas directly impacted my life, causing me to relearn how to do simple things like how to stay hydrated without a colon. I did and still do have strangers pass judgment on me, and it stings. When I use a handicap restroom, other patrons sometimes give me dirty looks and pass comments because I “look” capable. Patience jumps in for me here and I give them the benefit of doubt, while subtlety mentioning that life without a colon has its own unique challenges. Not all handicaps are physically visible. It’s imperative that we teach ourselves and our children to not just accept differences but to embrace our differences.
Recently, I experienced a change of a local, personal nature. After nearly 12 weeks of not seeing my team of doctors due to the COVID-19 quarantine, I was finally allowed to see my physician’s assistant at Penn. I was offered the option to change my appointment as many streets were closed due to protests but no way was I going to postpone. I brought with me two dozen meatballs for my PA and scheduling specialist. This was not the first time I brought them meatballs. However, this time was bittersweet: One was not able to get to a grocery store as the protests in West Philly had rendered her stores closed. She was appreciative of the surprise food I gave her. And I was happy to help in my limited, immunocompromised way. I’m Italian — food cures everything!
As we navigate these turbulent times, remember to be kind and patient with yourself and those learning to embrace and empower each other in the “new normal” of life.