Many cultures and individuals give power to numbers. Numbers can translate the seasons into a calendar. Numbers allow us to add and divide and track things in a linear manner. Numbers can cast a fortune or let us know if now might be a good time to buy a lottery ticket and they certainly make finding a destination manageable enough that between the street number and zip code we can find almost anywhere our Thanksgiving dinner might be waiting. And the wrong number, well, that leads to trouble.
Many cancer patients live by the numbers even as our doctors caution us to “wait, just wait.” But blood work translated to numbers is the first indicator our cancer might be growing, breaking through treatment, rushing our hopes. Setting that whisper aside is not easy.
Every 3-4 weeks since diagnosis my blood work has been tabulated into a number that I record in a chart. My chart shows helpful patterns since my marker, the ca 125, is a very individualized indicator. If we went by what is considered normal, I wouldn’t have had the recurrence of my cancer that I have been fighting since August 2011, a tough, long recurrence even if the numbers do not even reflect it should be there. So with my very small number range, I can track the relative behavior of my cancer especially between scans.
Seven or below are numbers I like – they allow me to sigh with the knowledge that my cancer is at least stable albeit visible. Now it climbs small baby steps – 8 in October, 9 in November, laughable upward creeps unless you have my tight range where new cancer growth is visible by 12. I feel sadness at what December may show in blood work and a new ct scan of the insides.
People love to count their blessings and I am no different. I will seat myself at the community table this Thanksgiving with so much I feel grateful for – cancer not being on that list. I share a story below about gratitude and being real. It may resonate with some of you and offend others. A friend relayed it to me who is better at attending cancer support groups than I.
One of my friend’s pals was in the end zone of his cancer, his cancer having just jumped the barricades of his last available drug and was now moving fast. He had weeks left and children still needing to be raised. He had enormous physical pain to boot. At this group a newly diagnosed terminal patient arrived in some place of deep gratitude over all the ‘gifts’ her cancer was giving her. The man turned to her and said, “Honey, you might not always feel that way.” The story has kept me chuckling at what some of us grumps choose not to be grateful for.