Keeping it real: normal

May 19

My friend asked me the other day, “Can you remember/imagine what it would be like be normal and to live without cancer in your life?”

My answer, immediately, was “no”, and I went on with a lengthy explanation of how I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have this diagnosis around.  Cancer is and forever will be linked to this season in my life.  (Although I do still have these surreal moments — like waking up from a dream — where the burden settles and realize this is really my life.)  I concluded my answer to her question by saying, “I can’t imagine being normal.”  The words that came out didn’t sit right at the time, but I couldn’t figure out why.  It’s been humming in the back of my brain since, and I think I know why:

Saying “I’m not normal” is actually the TOTAL OPPOSITE of how I really feel.  I feel like I’m totally normal; I just have this behemoth cancer situation to deal with on top of all of the other Life Things.   Like most of my friends, I generally feel like I’m getting it wrong most of the time.  I think I just give myself an abundance of grace and have perspective that no one gets the little things right all the time, and they don’t matter anyway.  And also my cancer makes normal (anyone’s normal, including my own) look bright and shiny and fabulous.  Normal is what I fight for, normal is amazing, but I’m not any better at the next person at being normal.  But still, it’s normal.  I’m normal.  Case(s) of my normalcy, submitted as evidence so you can see how very non-bright, non-shiny, and non-fabulous I can be in my normal moments.

My phone’s glitch-of-the-week is that when I am on the phone, it shows me a page from my contact list instead of the usual mini-icon for “keypad”, “speaker”, “mute”, etc.  When I try to deal with my voluminous pile of “to do” things, including pay bills, I call the 1-800 numbers.  I cannot enter any menu options for the compu-bots who are taking over the world because my keypad is in the Bermuda Triangle.  I have tried everythingintheworld to fix it and I cannot.  I also tried yelling my choices into the phone multiple times.  Alas, this did not work.  It’s maddening, and I haven’t figured out what to do yet.  I may resort to stamps and envelopes but who does that anymore?

I can’t even find my running shoes.  I have had sporadic work-outs here and there, but the fact that I don’t even know where my running shoes are tells you the frequency in which I’ve been getting out to actually run and feed that part of my soul.  At this point, it’s possible I left them in a hotel room on one of our mini-spring-cations this year.  I need to do more, but my energy level between chemo, recovering from chemo, and wimpyness after not moving for six days re: chemo is making me annoyed and irritated.  Which means I need to run!  Where are my shoes?  @#$%!  Can you even believe this cycle?

Today while Greta was at preschool, I sat down to work on The List again.  For some reason, I decided to tackle a low-priority, but been-on-the-list-forever item: figure out safe email for Maren.  (If I owe you a thank you note, I apologize; I really should have done those first.)  I’m looking for an email program that allows parents to moderate with ease.  I found “Tocomail” and I think it is going to work brilliantly, so I am excited for Maren to be able to email people from our inner circle.  Part II of that process is figuring out how to set up the computer so that she can’t get to scary things on the Internet.  She’s probably the most sheltered kid electronically ever; she has next-to-no experience on computers.  And then I looked at the clock and realized it was time to go pick up Greta.  I got exactly one thing done from The List, and I can’t actually let her use it yet because: Part II.  Oh geez.

My closet is a hot mess.  I have sentimental attachment to things and this has been exacerbated by the cancer situation.  I can’t throw anything away, and it seems senseless to buy new things, so I should keep the old things, but I have too many things in here, and which ones should I get rid of, and oh-not-that-one.  I still have the dress I got engaged in.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t actually worn the dress since that night 2003 (2003, people!!!) , but it’s still there. I also still have a Vera Wang bridesmaid dress in there from 2001.  But it’s Vera Wang!  I have the suit I wore for my interviews after college (in which I landed my dream job!), the jeans that were the best jeans of all time, my Miami broomball t-shirt.  I have problems.  Honestly, clothing is hard because of mastectomy, fluctuating weight (re: treatment), and budget.  It might be time to assemble my girlfriends to put on their ruthless hats and pare down.  But I’m kind of afraid I’ll have nothing left to wear.  Sigh.

I can probably go to the Apple store to fix two of the situations: Maren computer safety and the phone/keypad debacle.  But that means I have to make an appointment and drive there and explain it and hope that they can make magic happen for free.  Since last week I cut my own hair because it sounded like too much effort to make an appointment and go to it, so I’m not really feeling like rallying for all that effort.  And–don’t look closely at my hair, obviously.  So I’m just running low these days and did you know that May is crazier than December and that Santa’s not even going to show up on the 25th?  There will be no presents at the end of this month of chaos!  Dang!

Last weekend I went to two dance recitals.  (Maren and Greta both dance in different classes, and their studio is so big they break it up in to four or five different recitals.)  Maren danced on Saturday, Greta on Sunday.  They were the most adorable little things you’ve ever seen.  My whole family assembled, and wouldn’t-you-know, half of us got taken down by the stomach flu.  Talk about worst timing!  We made the most of it, but it’s disappointing because we didn’t get the all-together time we were hoping for.

At the recital, there was a little four-year-old girl in tap shoes and a lime green tutu who froze when the curtain opened and scream-cried-wailed at the top of the lungs for the entire four minutes that the other girls did their tap routine.  We couldn’t actually hear her because of the music, but it was definitely the ugly cry.  There was much sympathetic chuckling by the audience, and one teenage-helper-dancer ran out to rescue the crier, but the crier refused to take the hand of the teenage-helper-dancer, and the teenage-helper-dancer rightly decided it was more awkward for both of them to be out there, so she went off-stage again.  Poor little lime green tutu girl just stood there and wailed.

I just want to go up to that little girl (and her mother and father who just paid hundreds of dollars for that dance finale) and tell her, “You’re normal honey.  Life is hard and you did the very best you could up there.  I’m so proud of you, and you’re adorable.”

She’s normal, I’m normal, you’re normal.  We’re all doing the very best we can.  And grace abounds.


  1. Lisa Smith /

    God I needed that.

  2. You did it again. Every time. With your words. Even describing a to do list you find a way to stir my heart. Thank you! Grace does abound!

  3. Melody Smith /

    and, Melody Smith seconds that … God, I needed that with an AMEN!

  4. Abby /

    Beautiful. Fabulous. You keep doing normal… God’s got the rest 🙂

  5. Janey McKinney /

    Thank you. I needed that………really bad!

  6. Nancy Zwolinski /

    Jen, thanks for sharing the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly and somehow, through it all, pointing to Jesus and the Godly, the good and the beautiful that comes through relationship with Him. You sure do have a way of helping me to see the world through His eyes. I sure do love that about you.

  7. We are all that little girl in the lime-green tutu. We all need to be told, “You’re normal honey. Life is hard and you did the very best you could up there. I’m so proud of you, and you’re adorable.”
    Bless you, Jen. (I can’t clean out my closet, either.)

  8. peggy /

    You started my day with a hearty laugh because I’ve finally reached the age where I know the word “normal” applies to NO ONE! We’re all a “hot mess” ~ it’s just that some folks still try really, really hard to wedge themselves into that non-existent “normal” category, thinking it’s “THE” place to be. If my phone or computer (or anything else that could be classified as “technology”) isn’t working correctly, I put it in “time out”, hoping it’ll magically work the next time I try it (and sometimes that actually does work). I no longer even write To Do lists because I know I never look at them. And just to make you feel better I still have the bathrobe I wore when I brought our first born home from the hospital (and I’m pretty sure she might have been your high school health teacher)! If I thought for a moment I wouldn’t get Baker Acted for putting on a lime green tutu and wailing like a banshee, that’s exactly how I’d choose to behave when I get upset. There’s nothing like a good cry to purge frustration…and goodness only knows there isn’t a day that passes that we don’t have a few “holy crap” moments. At the end of each day when I get into my nice comfy bed, I thank God for my blessings…because I have plenty of them (we all do)…and that’s all that really matters. ♥p

  9. Bonnie BJ /

    Normal….. What or Who in the world is Normal? ? We all do our best with the grace of God on our side to constantly remind us that we are loved. … no matter what !!! Today is a new day to begin once again and for that I’m so very very Grateful 🙂

  10. Mary Jane /

    Jen, that about describes my afternoon yesterday. I have a normally clear dining room table now full of to do’s and lists abound. My introduction to chemo fog has been terrifying , losing mental acuity and cognitive function for days, not to mention the physical hell. And on the better days it’s still compromised. It’s often a challenge to articulate what is going on inside the mind and body when toxic drugs are flowing through your system. Your words are so comforting and eloquent and give me peace with each sentence.
    I am happy to have you on my life, a prime example of the good that avoids.

  11. Mary Jane /

    I’m happy to have you IN my life, an example of the good that ABOUNDS. 🙂