GBS: Back to Normal

Shawntel and her daughter

 By Shawntel Ensminger of S(intelligent)

At first I didn’t think about how much it would come to define my life and me as a person. 

When I was diagnosed with cancer at 27, I saw it as one more of life’s hurdles to be endured, then overcome. It would be a few months of aggressive chemo, then a couple more months of radiation, and then I planned on being cured.

Plans don’t always work out though. After those initial treatments, the cancer grew back, which meant more chemo, and then a stem cell transplant in 2009.

But then the cancer returned again, which meant more treatments, and a second stem cell transplant in 2012.

But then the cancer grew again.

So like I’ve said, in the beginning, I thought of being sick as an unpleasant blip on my timeline. Not ideal, but not really changing my course much.

My first transplant meant a cross-country move and a great deal of changes, but I still saw my cancer as a thing apart, an inconvenience to be dealt with. At some point, I told a friend I wanted to get back to being me.

I wanted to just be Shawntel, not “the-girl-who-has-cancer.”

I wanted things to get back to normal.

What I finally learned to accept along the way is that this is my normal. The journey I’m on and the experiences I’m having aren’t happening within brackets that I will eventually emerge from, back onto the same track I was on when I was 27.

I can’t get back to that “normal.”

I am Shawntel-who-has-cancer.

And it wasn’t until I stopped trying to separate those two things (myself and a girl with cancer) that I was able to accept the fact that my life trajectory and the person I am are moving forward. I decided that the moments I’m living right now shouldn’t be wasted waiting for things to “get back to normal.”

Whether I like my present circumstances or not, they are infinitely better than a past I can’t retrieve and a future I cannot force. Reveling in what might have been if I didn’t get sick is a waste; I did get sick. Sulking around until I get better is a waste; I have right now and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Not long ago, a friend told me she couldn’t wait to finish physical therapy from a traumatic accident she had been in so she could get back to living her life.

I think it’s exactly this mindset that *keeps* us from fully living our lives *all* the time!

When we have a setback with our health, our job, our finances, you name it, we want to wait for things to return to the way they were before that issue. We try to bracket off bad times, hoping that we’ll get back to normal soon and can forget about that period when things weren’t normal.

But it turns out if we embrace the changes in our lives, we can see that an unwelcomed veering off from an expected trajectory can lead to somewhere even better than where we thought we were going in the first place. But even if it doesn’t, even if it ends up somewhere we don’t want to be, the only time we can live our lives is in the present.

If we’re always waiting for something to be different, or if we’re hanging onto an idea of who we were rather than embracing who we are now, then we’ll never be able to experience the right here and the right now.

We can only live forward if we start from where we are, not wait to end up back where we wanted to be.


 Shawntel Ensminger is a single mom, a graduate student, a cancer patient/survivor, and an all-around awesome gal. She enjoys making crafts to list on Etsy, reading books of all sorts, and napping in the early afternoon. Given the chance, she likes playing games like Scrabble and Scattergories or working puzzles. When she’s not fighting off her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she teaches classes on American religious history and world religions. Her tween daughter is her greatest achievement, but also reminds Shawntel why some animals eat their young. She writes on her blog S(intelligent). And best of all, just last week, Shawntel was declared cancer-free!!!