The new normal

Jacaranda time in Sydney. What's not to like?
Jacaranda time in Sydney. What’s not to like?

Happy anniversary to me!  I’ve just celebrated one year of taking a daily dose of tamoxifen and I can attest (smiling through gritted teeth) that the side effects are well set in and do not appear to be going anywhere any time soon.  Yeah, yeah – I know this drug is protecting me from a relapse in my cancer but as I found with chemo, the side effects of tamoxifen seem to work counter to the whole process of getting well – in psychological terms for me at least.

 Physically I am sluggish with a metabolism at or near zero. I have several hot flashes in a 24 hour period, many of which are so ferocious they could power a small town. My energy levels only ever fire on two instead of four cylinders, and it’s an all-day proposition to get, and keep, my brain in gear.  Pyschologically and emotionally the slow metabolisim seems to underpin a resignation, often negative or neutral, about daily life. I experience low grade anxiety every day, am very easily overwhelmed and have trouble getting excited or feeling the joy in anything.

Sometimes I worry that the psych and emotional side effects of tamoxifen and, hell, being a cancer survivor in general are the ‘new normal’ for me. I hope beyond hope that they are not. The irony of only having a worry-filled and exhausted existence to look forward to after a near death experience borders on excruciating.

I can’t do too much about the physical effects of tamoxifen other than accepting them, with a grateful disposition, as evidence of all the good they are doing me. But I simply have to do something about the way this drug and, indeed, the whole recovery process make me feel. This is because feeling bad,  defaulting to the negative and focusing on the things I don’t want (as opposed to those I do) is actually a choice.

In her wonderful book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist speaks of our default to ‘scarcity’ – “For me and for many of us our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep’. The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time’. Whether true or not, that thought of ‘not enough’ occurs to us automatically before we even think to examine it.”

When I read this passage I suddenly thought that, apart from having a birds-eye view into my very soul, Ms Twist was accurately describing how I used to feel on waking every morning before I knew I had breast cancer.  A rational person might assume that this attitude of scarcity would change after the person in question has endured a life-threatening  diagnosis and treatment. Surely said cancer survivor would be bounding out of bed yelling ‘It’s great to be alive!’ before dancing all the way to the bathroom.  Not so in my own and the cases of many others, I suspect, and the drugs are partly to blame for that undoubtedly. What interests me in this comparison, however, is the default to scarcity/negativity/fear/worry (pick your poison) that appears to exist in all of us, whether we’re healthy/wealthy/beautiful/intelligent, or not.

Tuesday’s law 3 in Deepak Chopra’s  Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is the law of Karma or Conscious Choices. The good doctor exhorts us to be mindful of the choices we make every waking minute, thereby resisting these seemingly pre-set defaults like scarcity and negativity. In my own little treatise on this law entitled Vegetarian Vampires and What We Can Learn from Them (in the book of the same name) I liken this conscious choice-making to the dilemma of the Twilight Saga’s Edward Cullen (the vampire who feeds on animals rather than people) faces when he falls in love with a human woman, Bella Swan, the aroma of who’s blood makes him crazy.  Edward has to make a conscious choice not to follow his base instincts and drain Bella at any given moment because he knows both of them will be better off in the long run if he resists. He has to make this conscious choice many, many times in a 24 hour period, worsened no doubt by the fact that being a vamp and all, he doesn’t need sleep. Eventually, with lots of practice and more than a few near misses, Edward’s positive conscious choice-making becomes a habit, allowing him and Bella to pursue a normal relationship – well, as normal two folks can have when one of them is a vampire.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that conscious choice-making and resetting default positions is not merely the domain of  mythical creatures like Edward Cullen.  Like manna from heaven this morning in my inbox there was a blogfeed from one of my new faves, Pam Grout, author of E-Squared. I find Pam’s blogs have an uncanny ability to serve up exactly what I need to hear, just when I need to hear it and this one is no exception.  Entitled Be recklessly generous and relentlessly kind, Pam talks about the training her mind to see beauty and ‘seek out the bigger picture, to focus on the love and the seemingly impossible’.  She also points out the way to do this is to ‘practice, practice, practice’.

And so, dear readers, I’ll tell you what I plan to do. Tamoxifen regime notwithstanding, I intend to eschew my negative default and hit the reset button each and every morning, the very minute that I become conscious. I pledge to focus on the wonder of being alive, gratitude for all that I have, the many things there are to look forward to and the stuff that makes me happy. I am going to practice the conscious choice-making it requires to do all this in a solid bid to make defaulting to the positive my new normal.

Bless you for reading.


  1. says

    I’v read Vegetarian Vampires, so I should have had some idea, but it’s come as a shock to learn what you have to battle with every day. I do admire your courage and, yes, joie de vivre! (And you still have to correct my silly typos.) I do hope you have a white Christmas; some day I will tell you my white Christmas story…

  2. says

    Wonderful, Jen.

    Sorry you’re not jumping out of bed each morning, but on the other hand you might break something doing that – an ankle, a femur, a treasured teacup. So look on the bright side. You’ve spared yourself a disability, or the loss of a family heirloom.

    Lots of love and the colour purple.

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