A Perfectly Unnatural State

Over the last week or so I’ve been struggling with something stuck in my craw.  I’m not sure what it is, although I’ve been trying desperately to find out.   The thoughts go something like this:


Yeah, I know.  All over the place, right?

Okay, let me address each in kind and maybe I can make sense of this jumble.

After I wrote my post about feeling alienated from my non-stage iv sisters (which was NOT a sympathy post) the outpouring of love and affection I received from the 2012 Sisters was enough to throw me off my feet.  Don’t get me wrong, I always thought these ladies were super and the point of the post was not that anyone ever made me feel alienated, but that circumstances made me feel strange.  Afraid to reach out and fear of being a downer.  There was no common ground anymore.  Or so I thought.  Turns out I learned a valuable lesson.

Depending on where we are in Cancertown we feel fortunate, troubled, scared, or marginalized.  The weirdness of daily life in an even weirder construct that exists inside of a larger stratified world.  And perhaps it is within this weirdness where circumstances will leave us feeling alienated.   But it is also in this weird place where we have the opportunity to either find ways to connect or just decide to move on.

In that weird place I decided to move on in order to spare myself and everyone else.  But my 2012 Sisters took it upon themselves to find a way to connect.  Someone posted the essay to the board, private messages were coming in at a clip, and I felt so welcomed.  My friend Laurie sent me a lovely bracelet as a birthday gift and I’m going to wear it all the time.  It is a reminder not to close myself off and know that I have women out there who have my back (and I have theirs).  (By the way, this bracelet and others are really very pretty, check it out.)

As you know, I was happier than a tornado in a trailer park when I went back to the office.  It was a moment.  I was so happy.  I had a couple of fits and starts after that, but that was okay.  Today was my second full day in a row and I’m getting there–getting stronger.  But I was unprepared for an experience that caught me off guard.

I felt very much like a stranger.  You know, life has gone on as it is wont to do and I was kind of left in the dust.  Working groups of which I was a part continued to move forward.  My department went on with life as normal while I was home and sedentary as a river rock.  No exercise put on some pounds and about three months of Purple Haze left me feeling not so quick on the uptake.  So I sort of walked around feeling a little less than part of things and struggling to find that sweet spot.

Emerging from a cancer induced cloister and being plunked back into the world again just feels . . . I don’t know what it feels like exactly. It’s just . . . weird.   And maybe it’s weird because of something so obvious it could bite my nose.

The Doomsday Machine
The Doomsday Machine is the title of one of a handful of stellar episodes from the original Star Trek series.  It starred the great William Windom as Commodore Matt Decker.  Decker is the only survivor on a ship attacked by an alien machine that ingests planets for fuel.  Attacked by the alien thing, a battle in which the ship is almost destroyed, Decker beams his crew down to the planet for safety only to see the machine consume the planet.  He’s obsessed with killing it and, predictably enough, dies on a suicide mission to kill the alien robot probe thing (which is actually a killing machine so powerful it was never meant to be used, but once it was, it destroyed its creators and roamed the universe looking for fuel).


Cancer is my personal Doomsday Machine.   It was closing in pretty tightly until my Tamoxifen torpedoes held it at bay and forced it into a kind of retreat.  But it’s never going to go away.  It just slows down and stalks me.  To determine its location I get scans every 4-5 months to see where it is.  I used to think the Death Star was a good metaphor, but the Death Star is shrinking rapidly.  Soon it may be no more–which would be quite nice, actually.  (Take that!)  The outposts have shrunk too.  (Screw you!)  The scan I get in a week will tell me.  But it can never tell me where the Doomsday Machine is.  That is always there.  Waiting to consume me.

And maybe that’s what makes life so surreal these days.  I’ve learned a valuable lesson in opening myself up to the same level of kindness and warmth I would like to give anyone.  But with a killing machine stalking me for the rest of my days, life lends itself to feeling marginalized and not quite right.  You know, just as I have cancer on the shelf something is said or felt or imagined that knocks it off.  Then I have to face it, pick it up and place it back on the shelf, and then try to walk away and forget about it.  And life, being the little earthquake that it is, keeps knocking crap off the shelf.  I play this game countless times in a given day.  Some folks call this the “new normal.”

To hell with the “new normal.”    With stage iv disease there is no normal–new or otherwise.  Indeed, it is a perfectly unnatural state.


In my recent spree of deleting old drafts that when nowhere, I unintentionally deleted my reblog of Marie Ennis-O’Connor’s post “Establishing Your New Normal: Life After Cancer.”  I tried to reblog, but WordPress reminded me that it’s already been done.  So I include this link so you hopefully you won’t miss it.  It’s a good read!

This entry was posted in Career Conundrums, My Stage IV Life, Stage IV Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to A Perfectly Unnatural State

  1. Liz says:

    Found my way here via JBBC, Scorchy, and I will be reading back through your archives and adding you to my (shamelessly old-fashioned) blog roll so as to come back with ease. Very glad to hear about the support you received from your on-line Sisters. My own journeys into the breast cancer blogosphere have been sporadic, but enough to show me that it’s a remarkable place. Have been trying to make sense of the notion of (cough) ‘new normal’ on my own blog from the perspective of what you might call a rickety remission, drawing inspiration from the Sopranos and Simpsons – I love your use of a Star Trek analogy (while wishing you weren’t in a position for it to come to mind). Am also tempted to nick the phrase “happier than a tornado in a trailer park”!! Sending very best wishes from Darwin, Australia for next week’s appointment – I hope your oncologist has the intelligence and skill of a Jean-Luc Picard!

    • Scorchy says:

      G’day Sheila! Maybe for you Aussies it should be “happier than mercury in a thermometer!” You’ve gone through a brutal summer. I will be sure to check in and follow your blog as well. Thank you for reading The Boob. 🙂

      Captain Picard lives not far from my friend in Brooklyn. Honestly, if he were my oncologist I’d always find an excuse to have cancer. “Yeah, I have a lump on my finger . . . oh, that’s a knuckle?”

  2. The Accidental Amazon says:

    ‘New normal,’ my tush. I’m not even dealing with the evil Doomsday Machine in the way that you are, and I still don’t feel normal at work — or anywhere else — four years later. I’m with Rebecca. I want the freakin’ old normal back, which is a total pipe dream. What we clearly need is a Tardis.

  3. dear scorchy,
    i tried to imagine what it would be like to go back to my workplace after a long absence – just could not totally get there, but i do know i would be feeling such a sense of being left out, and out of touch – so i know that must sting and be just one more reminder of how every damn aspect of life get’s screwed up royally by the pall of fucking, stupid cancer.

    i hope that as more of your days at work unfold, you feel more relevant and needed, and gradually will find your professional identity is one you feel comfortable and fulfilled with, even though it’s one that’s had to be re-invented in some ways. .

    keep writing, scorch – each time you tell about stuff like the doomsday machine, you are helping someone else (like me!) connect and not feel so alone. and please know that you are not alone, either. i hope you can feel how much affection and empathy and admiration so many people have for you, and that it help’s.

    i can be devastatingly witchy at times – so i will cast my most evil eye at all that troubles you; my way of letting you know that i got your back.

    love, XO,

    karen, TC

  4. I’ve always hated the term “new normal.” Nothing but a euphemism to plug a pacifier in our mouths, except we spit it out.

  5. Pingback: Weekly Round-Up « Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  6. Rebecca says:

    When people tell me this is my new normal it kinda makes we want to punch them in the throat and say f@@k you! I want my old normal back.
    Thank you for putting my feelings into words.

    • Scorchy says:

      I hear you. But I also do understand that there is a desire to “normalize” the experience so that people adapt and move on–all great things–but I don’t like the term. Hey, thanks for reading The Boob!

  7. Susan says:

    I think cancer is so cruel and unfair the way it invades you body, mind and spirit. As you so eloquently explain the way the doomsday machine is a constant for you, there really is no way to step off the cancer train and when you are stage IV cancer won’t let your mind and body take a cancer vacation because it is a constant. Katie nailed it when she said “that’s much harder to fight on a daily basis than tumors.” Great post!

  8. gregsmithmd says:


    I can’t imagine trying to convince yourself that having cancer, any kind of cancer, is normal in any way. I admire your courage, your wit and your sense of humor as you navigate this path. I’m feeling similar things as I go through divorce, though I fully understand that my “condition” is not terminal or life threatening. The feeling that work is not as satisfying some days, that I don’t fit in quite the same way, that my relationships are changing whether I want them to or not, and the feeling that I may not ever really be happy with this “new normal” are all new to me.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Again, I admire you and enjoy reading them.


  9. dglassme says:

    Scorch, LoL. Leave it to the sarcastic rebel to push back on terminology she finds unfitting, declaring it to be a quakers life rather than the “new normal”, sounds like something you’d get out of an oatmeal box. Call it what you’d like, the state of having cancer is caca no matter how you slice it. D

  10. Acacia says:

    Nothing seems normal when you’re in our situation. I’ve been back at work but it’s been harder then I anticipated.

  11. Lori says:

    So very well said, Scorchy!! I also struggle daily with the place this disease holds in my life and what it means to those around me – from family who share this with me daily, to most everyone else who largely forgets (often until someone famous is diagnosed or dies). Giving it its due, acknowledging its place, pushes against lending acceptance. Not normal indeed!!!

  12. Katie says:

    I can only imagine that cancer is like a seriously unwanted houseguest that not only takes up residence in your body, but also follows you to work, crashes your hobbies, interrupts your quiet moments. To the issue of normality, I don’t know if you’d really want to find any sense of it with cancer. To do so would be accepting some unfortunate changes in your life that you never agreed to and don’t even like. I don’t know. I think it’s something people overlook when we think about the affects of cancer. We immediately think of the sickness and the chemotherapy that accompanies it, when we really need to be more considerate of the fact that this disease infiltrates every part of a person’s life without their consent. In many ways, I imagine that’s much harder to fight on a daily basis than tumors.

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