I am a one year oral cancer survivor. I survived a 13 hour operation that included removing my lower right jaw and replacing it with the tip of my shoulder blade. My operation is called a lateral neck dissection, and it sounds nicer than it felt! The lining of my cheek received a living tissue transplant from the same shoulder area. I had a tracheotomy and couldn’t speak. During the “cut, burn, and poison” treatment, I was connected to a feeding tube for four months. Months of treatment and physical therapy have helped me survive, but I am still discovering what my “new normal” will be.
How does my “new normal” relate to prepping? “New normal” is a term the cancer community gives to how well a cancer survivor functions in life compared to their original abilities. Let’s look at my experience and see if we can draw some similarities to prepping. First, let us look at expectations.
My cancer came on me quickly and unexpectedly. That sounds similar to how the experience Preppers are preparing for is expected to come also– quickly and with little or no warning. I had a few weeks to prepare for a planned easy removal of a cancerous sore inside my cheek that was the size of a pencil’s eraser. I studied every article and video available, and I knew what to expect from this operation. The plan was that doctors would take a piece of my forearm tissue to provide tissue and artery replacement. I didn’t count on the team of doctors stepping out of the operating room and gaining permission from Nancy to remove my jaw because cancer had spread like a wildfire out of control. The result was that I woke up with the very things I was told not to expect. I couldn’t speak because of a tracheotomy. I had a feeding tube, a different donor site for tissue, a longer hospital stay, and a bigger struggle than I was expecting. As preppers we should be prepared. However, realize that you might wake up one day and all of your preps are not going to match the tragedy unfolding in front of you. How will you respond? Will you listen to the new diagnosis and respond to a revised plan, or will you go negative because things are not working according to your plan? It is good and Godly to prepare but also to approach calamity with a discerning eye and adjust to the “new normal”!
If you read the Internet or actually talk to cancer survivors, you soon find they learned early on to have no or few expectations. Read the Internet or actually talk to Preppers and you may experience too many preconceived notions as to what the future dilemmas in life will be. A cancer patient’s day is filled with doctor visits, hospital stays, and medical tests. Ask a room full of medical staffers to predict your results, estimate your length of stay, or pre-plan your treatment, and you will get a room full of differing answers. Our mind tries to grasp at all of the “grey” issues and sort them into black and white pigeon holes. You must lower expectations, live in the moment, and reactively respond to current situations as they occur. Experience is the only teacher that quizzes us first and then gives us the answer. Prepping should be an outline that must be revised from time to time to match the present state of conditions.
Response to New State of Conditions
Now let’s discuss your ability to respond to the “new normal” state of conditions. Let’s say you’re well prepared but out of shape. How well will you survive exposed to the elements or the arduous task of just getting by in a world without structure? My operation was followed by a four week recovery at home before starting my seven week regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. Again, this was another unexpected addition to my treatment that I was told I wouldn’t need before my cancer was seen during my operation. You stashed your preps, but they are unobtainable. How well have you practiced your simple survival skills in order to get by with little to no resources? I knew these four weeks were an opportunity to build my strength before the rigorous treatment schedule. I walked to get in shape. My first walk was to the end of my driveway. Every day I doubled my distance until I was walking three miles. Physical fitness was key to my surviving treatment, but it also killed me more than once. During treatment I kept up a pretty rigorous training program, but as chemotherapy coursed through my body and radiation accumulated in dosage my white cell count diminished and I walked myself into infections and stays at the hospital in isolation. Once I came home to recover, I was in isolation due to risk of infection. I refused to adjust to another “new normal” situation and modify my physical activity. Do you know to recognize your body’s signs of distress like dehydration, hyperthermia, and heat exhaustion? My house has more than a few recreational distractions, and the isolation was almost more than I could handle. I wonder how many Preppers will unlock the door to their subterranean bug out bunker too early and walk into the remnants of a plague borne demise due to lack of human contact?
Let’s say that you survived the initial WROL, EMP strike, plague, et cetera, and now you are aware of the “new normal”. Your preps are in place, but you have an accident and now you are disabled. I used to hunt, but my shoulder is so disabled that I cannot climb a tree stand or withstand the recoil of a shotgun. I am revising my weapon of choice and might switch to a crossbow with a cocking winch. I already have a blind, so I will use that instead of the tree stand. In your disabled state, can you fire your weapons one handed and accurately hit a target with your weak hand? I can, but I won’t gamble that I can hunt like that. What if your dominant shooting eye is injured? You survived, you are healthy, or are you? Are you truly functional in this “new normal” condition? How do you know? I suggest you employ SWOT.
SWOT is an acronym for Strength, Opportunity, Weakness, and Threat. Months after my surgery and while I was recovering, an unscrupulous tree cutter left my suburban backyard a mountain of brush and full length felled trees and just walked away. I am so bull headed that I took it upon myself to clean up this mess. I bought a small electric chain saw  that was too heavy for me to pick up. I sat myself down in the brushpile and threw the saw as high as I could. No matter where it landed, I cut brush. When I was too tired to saw, I stacked brush and burned. I was still suffering a loss of balance and would fall throughout the day, but I kept going. Soon I built up enough strength to use a gas powered 20-inch chain saw . Then, I started milling large 24-inch diameter logs with a beam machine. Does that sound impressive? It was until I fooled myself into thinking I could move 15-foot long logs across my yard and stack four foot logs four high. I now have a bicep tear, collar bone tear, and shoulder tear, and I am going back to a surgeon because ultrasound guided large mass cortisone shots failed. If I had reviewed SWOT, I most definitely would have stopped at clearing brush and brought in a saw mill to finish clearing the logs. My point is that you must not let your expectations determine the outcome. You must constantly revise your plans using SWOT. SWOT is great for comparisons. If you plot a chart with a column for each comparison, you can quickly assess which action to take. Keep it simple and you can review SWOT in your mind.
My ability to function is quite remarkable in spite of what I have experienced. I would not wish my cancer journey on another person. At the same time, I would not want to give up my new understanding of love and life if it meant not having cancer. Once things go bad, I hope you can use your end of the world scenario for a better purpose. Do not waste it. You may find everyday tasks are much harder, but if you adapt you might gain a deeper appreciation for life and those around you. Life might not be as bad as you planned for, and you might see the best in people if you are looking for it. You will develop a new community, based around your hardships and your blessings. There was a saying in WWII that there were no atheists in foxholes. I can tell you from my own experience that God and the power of prayer is alive and strong in the rooms of cancer patients!