The Balancing Act – Getting to the New Normal

by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel


For the past 23 years, since my cancer diagnosis in the Fall of 1990, I’ve been working on this ‘New Normal’ balancing act. It has many faces and as life happens, the faces keep changing. There is the constant ebb and flow of new experiences, new situations, new health challenges, new work environments, new relationships – the list is endless.

The question then is ‘How Does One Manage to Find Balance in a Constantly Shifting Set of Circumstances?

. . . with insight and knowledge and a good and varied set of tools to pull out of your toolbox as the situation demands

Hence the Cancer Help Hub (add link) – a place where I will share, not only my tools and experiences, but those of others who have had to find a ‘new normal’ after cancer. We learn from each other because what works for one doesn’t always work for another. We are unique individuals, with unique needs, and lives.


So, what do I do?

Reading and Research:
In the beginning, I did a lot of reading to help me peel back the layers of my life to understand why this had happened to me in the first place. Was it diet? I thought I’d been doing a good job of that all along – maybe not. Maybe it needed some tweaking. Was it exercise? Well, I’m a trained dancer, was a jogger at the time, walked to work every day, and was taking tai chi. What else could I do to make this better? Probably nothing – this part of my life was working. What about work? Did I like my work? Was I good at it or was I just doing it to earn a living? Well, mostly I liked the people, but the work was not really up my alley. I needed to provide for my family, so I did what was at hand. My real love is teaching dance and writing, but didn’t feel I could create enough income to support us. Wrong! I could have – a starting point. Still, I was waffling about making this decision. Relationships – my marriage. An issue! It was causing a big disconnect between who I felt I was inside with the person I had become on the outside. Another starting point! A BIG starting point . . . and a painful one!

Creating a new normal is not always an easy path. For some, it is a minor tweak in something they are doing – or how they are feeling inside (body, mind and spirit). For others, it is a major shift in lifestyle.

How did I find these things out – most were buried pretty deep – were living in denial inside of me because obviously they were painful subjects.


I started here. Got myself a notebook and started writing. When one starts out, usually daily drivel pops up – nothing spectacular. But over time, when the writing becomes a daily practise and a way of working out emotions, the subconscious starts to share its secrets. Before you know it, words will appear on the page – words that you didn’t really fashion in your head. These words came from inside – deep inside. For some, they recognize these words as coming from the Universe or God or however they envision the force that created our world. These thoughts jump out to help us see what is REALLY going on. Not what we have deluded ourselves into thinking was going on, but flow emotions out of us onto the page. Tears often accompanied these words, especially in the beginning. But lots of other emotions can jump out – even really good ones, like laughter, love, understanding, etc. It’s not the words, but the emotion and relevance we attach to the words that count. Hence learning, shifting and growth!

One of the books I read that helped a great deal and in fact, created my daily habit of writing Morning Pages, was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It really isn’t a book about cancer, but one about creativity and finding that spark of creativity that lives within each of us. A group of friends and I gathered every two weeks and shared our experience of each chapter and the exercises. It was amazing what came out of that exercise of sharing. We were in awe of the process and to this day, we have all moved forward from that place with new insight. And, as mentioned, I write every day, every morning (or later in the day if I’ve missed the morning) and can see the path of growth in my words. I’ve healed major parts of my life by being aware that there were blocks to progress, anger, unwillingness to take the next step, and finally acceptance and growth. It always amazes me what shows up – not every day, but when the time is right, the ‘wisdom’ is there.



This was tough for me in the beginning. I was used to activity. I’m a dancer, walker, active person. Sitting still for even five minutes was difficult – mostly difficult to keep my mind still for that length of time. Also an idea person, my mind runs on a mile a minute, often outpacing my body and physical resources . So, I struggled at first. I started with five minutes and kept at it until I could manage that much. Then I added more. Often, I got frustrated because my mind just wouldn’t settle. It was still running in loops going over the same stuff and now with cancer, the fears and uncertainty of what was ahead.

One thing I learned in this process was that the thing I had the most difficulty with or was resisting the most was the thing I needed to do the most. It took almost three weeks before I even had a glimmer of the peace and calm that is available in meditation. When it happened, it felt like pure bliss. I felt in the ‘now’, and could actually feel myself inside my body, not just looking at the world from an outside perspective.

Another insight for what helped me settle, was to do some exercise first – a walk, or tai chi warm ups – something to burn off excess energy. It got rid of that funny feeling of anxiety that sat in the pit of my stomach. Once I started doing that, the meditation came much easier. I got to the point where I could sit for half an hour. It’s a practise I have carried forward in one form or another – forms which will be revealed in upcoming issues of the newsletter.

And, why is this important? It’s again, access to our inside – our soul – our very essence. The part we are often too much in a hurry to pay attention to in our fast paced lifestyles with all the attendant pressures of work, family, etc. We feel we don’t have the time to just sit and meditate – we should be doing something. I totally get that. However, nothing is more important, especially at this time in your life when you need to heal, than to take the time to be there for yourself. No one else can do it for you. This is your journey, your healing, and your life. If you don’t give it value, how can we expect others to give it value? Something to think about!


Checking In With What’s Important in your Life:

This is a big one. Most of us think that our wealth and value is in our job or our ability to earn a living. Many of us have careers that we have worked hard at fostering. We have run the gamut of climbing the corporate ladder or whatever that might look like in your profession or work of choice.

However, when you get sick, have cancer, and death is staring you in the face, values change. It was then, for me, when I was unable to work, that I realized that my greatest asset in life was not my job, but my health. Without my health, I had nothing – no job, no enjoyment of life, no fun, no quality of life. If I’d had a million dollars at that time, it would have maybe made some things easier financially, but it wouldn’t have created a better quality of life. Cancer knows no socio-economic borders. It can strike the richest to the poorest – it will feel the same no matter.

So, then values! What is important in our life? What would you change, if anything? Are you happy? Do you like what you are doing? Do you enjoy your family, friends, work associates? Have you given up major parts of yourself in the business of getting by or working for a living? Are you working to live or living to work? There is a difference.

Life can be simple if that is the avenue that you might need to consider. There are many stories of people who have abandoned highly successful corporate careers to find joy in living with simple pleasures and work that they are passionate about – that gives meaning to their lives – not just money.

This is a process. It takes diligence in being real with yourself. It takes huge courage to look into the nooks and crannies of ourselves and ferret out the parts that maybe we have hidden for a reason. We all have the best and the worst in us. So, one has to just get over oneself. We do have choice.

As you read on in the upcoming issues of the Cancer Help Hub, I will interview and highlight people who have made changes in their lives and are truly well. There will also be lessons from those who have a different path offered to them by life. It all has value in the learning.

In the meantime, I challenge you to consider what your ‘New Normal’ could look like if you had the courage to make that choice. Or, maybe you have made that decision. We would love to hear from you.

I did make these huge changes in my life and have gone on to enjoy experiences that I never would have imagined – and brought value, not only to myself, but others in the process. It has been a most enriching and humbling time. But I had to leap into the chasm of uncertainty and overcome many fears in the process. It is so worth it!! I’m still here and have been cancer-free for 23 years. I do walk to a different drummer – my New Normal – my Balancing Act – to stay the path and walk my talk.


Attention Editors and Publishers

Cancer Help Hub content may be republished with a link to the full article on Such republication must include attribution with a link to the Cancer Help Hub homepage as follows: source, and then the website.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 4.67 out of 5)