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Childhood Cancer, Denver, The "New" Normal

Energetic Whiplash, and Unexpected Groundedness

How the New Normal Led Us Back Home

I’m uncomfortably groggy this morning. It’s Wednesday, a school and workday, so I am forced to push through my sluggishness. Grasping for comfort, I reach for the coffee pot, hoping the caffeine will jump-start my weary self back into the pace my daily life, as I need to hit the ground running this morning.

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Our drive was smooth, other than yet another snowy push over Wolf Creek Pass.

The kids and I returned last night from our monthly jaunt to Denver for oncology follow up. It was a whirlwind 60-hour ordeal, which ended in us hurrying out of hospital after Chloe’s appointment yesterday morning and loading ourselves into our car, aiming for a 5pm arrival in Durango for ski lessons. We did make it, but not without consequence. I’m worked.

This trip felt much like a roller coaster ride, where you are firmly strapped into the safety of your seat, yet you can’t control the bumping and banging of your body into the safety harness or the side of your car as you are pulled through the ride’s twists and turns. I emerged having had fun, but feeling significantly worse for the wear.

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The kids played contentedly while I watched the Broncos defense repeatedly sack Tom Brady on the TV in the playroom.

Our entire trip went off without a hitch. Having rolled out of our driveway before 7:30 am on Sunday, we arrived at Brent’s Place in time for me to watch the Broncos beat the Patriots, securing themselves a spot in the Super Bowl. (GO BRONCOS!)

The next day we hopped into the Brent’s Place van to join some other families on a planned outing to the Colorado History Museum downtown. The spacious facility housed more than three floors of interactive, surprisingly modern exhibits, and much fun was had by all. As the afternoon wore on, Chloe made some new friends, and played peacefully into the evening with two 10 year-old girls at Brent’s Place. And the next day, her blood test results were completely normal, as we expected.

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Samantha assists Jordan at the cash register of the old-fashioned grocery at the Colorado History Museum.
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Chloe and Samantha, who sat together in the back of the van after becoming acquainted on our outing, met another friend upon our return to Brent’s Place that afternoon.

The problem for me was, it was painfully exhausting to switch gears away from my regular life for four days. My energy balance remains delicate here in the new normal, and packing and driving all that way to attend to something other than the tasks relevant to the current momentum in my life taxed me on a cellular level. The turbulence from traveling has left me with an energetic whiplash. As a result, it is no longer feeling necessary to drive 350 miles for a blood test (we do have the option to get her monthly blood draws done closer to home).

An unexpected new relevance has emerged in 2016, reminding me that life is continuously changing. This month marks the anniversaries of Chloe’s initial onset of symptoms, her diagnosis, and the start of her hospitalization and treatment. My anticipating these anniversaries over the holidays turned out to be far more agonizing than actually experiencing them. One year to the day after our first weary drive to Denver with her newly diagnosed cancer, I discovered that our lives have come full circle. This discernment arose unexpectedly when I took my kids to their first ski lessons in two years. As I stood on the soft, groomed snow at the base of the slope, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude while I watched my perfectly normal, healthy kids eagerly yet clumsily clip ski boots into bindings. Here we are, one year later, finally creating the life that we want, after having been sidelined by medical journey. Chloe is healthy now. Just because it’s the anniversary of her illness doesn’t mean that the illness will necessarily recur; the calendar dates serve only as reminders and not as reflections of our current reality.

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Last year, before I returned to work, it was easy and desirable for us to drive to Denver for our monthly follow up appointments. I was still feeling vulnerable, having just emerged from Chloe’s life saving treatment. We needed those constant connections to our healing environment and the people who had supported us while there.

But after a warm, affirming visit with our hometown pediatric oncologist for her blood test in December, and subsequently regaining some real momentum for our lives here after the holidays, I did not enjoy having to break away from my daily grind.

Not that heading to Denver is the wrong direction, but it is a significant departure from the direction I want to be headed, which is to continue building momentum for our lives here in Durango. It’s easier to maintain said momentum than it is for me to start up again after lost time away from work and home.

20160125_130821I remember the toll the back-and-forth took on me a year ago. Even though we were elated to return home for a few days in between rounds of treatment, switching gears from hospital to home and back again required a ton of energy. The same is true this year, only in reverse. It’s sends me for a spin to go there and then come back, with deadlines looming and projects to follow up on at home.

What’s relevant is that we need to stay HERE. Teach the kids to ski. To keep them in their school routine. To follow through on my professional endeavors. To stay connected to THIS community. It took me six months out of her treatment to fully embody this. I feel like I spent that time trying to find my way through the “in-between”. And a part of me might always remain in the in-between, after having endured such extreme circumstances far away from home. But we can’t build a life in two places at once. Our memories of hospital will have to fade into the background a little bit, to allow space for our current reality to fully emerge and develop.

Life does, in fact, go on after a cancer diagnosis. There are more efficient (and less time consuming) ways to hold onto our memories besides driving all the way back there to connect with the physical reminders. Having gratitude, reminiscing as a family, and actually moving forward, and taking charge of our lives here, is honoring to our process.

It is with great relief that I settle into this phase of the new normal, which includes us staying put. I get the chance to more consistently lay new roots down here. While Chloe’s medical history will follow our family far into the future, I am relieved that Durango, our beloved little town where we chose to live, has reclaimed it’s place in our lives. It just took some time. And the timing back into belonging here hit me unexpectedly. (Denver, I still love you, and I’ll be back. But for now, I need to focus on living my life in Durango, my home sweet home.)

Have you ever faced a similar situation, where you unexpectedly found your footing?  If so, please share your thoughts in a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

Dr. Stephanie is a chiropractor, writer, mom, and wife who lives and plays in Durango, Colorado. Her passion is empowering people to discover their truth and express optimum health.

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