Yes, that’s right. On the eve of going back to my job tomorrow to finish up my 19th year of teaching, I am going to write about data……sort of. Don’t give up on me yet, it won’t be as boring as you might think. As my teaching colleagues know, our world and work are filled with data! Data, data, and more data. Most of which points to us being really crappy teachers and failing our students in major ways. But, I digress.
The data I am going to talk about is survival data. When I was first diagnosed in March of 2012, I was in shock for about 3 weeks. I basically was in 3 states of being…….work (numbness/survival), crying, or sleeping. After the 3 week fog began to lift, the first thing I did was reach out to other stage IV breast cancer patients via a website called bc.org. This became my lifeline and I know I have mentioned it on the blog before. When I first reached out and asked for advice, the first thing EVERYONE said was…….DO NOT GOOGLE SURVIVAL STATISTICS! Well, we all know that when we are told specifically NOT to do something, it makes us that much more curious, and we end up doing it anyway. I, however, actually didn’t do it. Until just a few weeks ago.
Two things occurred over my winter break that got me pondering death, survival, and timelines. One, the bc.org website had a thread remembering the women we had lost over the course of 2013. The list was astounding! kita, soleil, luvrving, spamgirl, apple, tweetyb, alesta, konakat, lynn1, dreamwriter, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Please note that I listed screen names……people with breast cancer do have normal names, obviously. It makes my stomach twist in knots each and every time we lose someone on the boards.
The second event, had nothing to do with breast cancer. A colleague of mine died on Christmas Eve. She was 35 years old. I saw her at a meeting on December 17th and on the 24th, she was dead. Unbelievable! My first thought was……what happened? 35 year olds don’t generally just drop dead. Was she ill? Was it an accident? After asking, the results are still inconclusive. Could have been pneumonia, or carbon monoxide poisoning. I am still in shock and still so sad that this happened. What a blow! I can’t imagine what her colleagues and students must be going through.
After these two occurrences, for whatever reason, my own mortality popped into my head. I began to wonder about those survival statistics. So, I did what I was told never to do. I googled it. According to several reputable websites, I have between an 18-22% chance of being alive five years past my diagnosis. Currently, I am 22 months past diagnosis. So, according to the data, I have, best case scenario, a 22% chance of being alive about three years from now. Or to look at it from the pessimistic side……a 78% chance of being dead. It is rather sobering, anyway you look at it.
Now most of this data is old and outdated. It was from about 10 years ago. I don’t know why it takes so long to update it, but it does. There have been dozens of new drugs approved and put into use since this data was published. So, perhaps, I have odds that are a bit better than 22%. But we never know how long we are meant to walk this earth and live this life. Think of my colleague. Was death on her radar whatsoever at age 35? Probably not. But she is proof that our time here can be cut short. We have no control.
I then began to think about how one handles the “data” around my disease. I came to two possible conclusions. I can either get busy living, or I can get busy dying. The old words of wisdom popped into my head, “Live each day as if it were your last.” But, after contemplation, I decided that approach is all wrong. After all, who would take on mortgages and car payments, have children, go to work, clean house, etc……if we knew today was our last day? The answer is easy; NOBODY! So much of our existence and humanness depends on planning for a future. We have to believe that tomorrow with come.
So what do we do? How do we “seize the day” AND plan for a future? The answer may be different for everybody, but for me it is pretty simple. I have to suck every bit of joy, laughter, fun, love, enjoyment, and opportunity from everyday. It means not losing an opportunity to tell someone I love them. It means going to dinner with my friends even though I am tired and feel more like going home. It means taking risks, going outside of my comfort zone, and yes, even planning for an uncertain future. It means expecting the best, but preparing for the worst. I don’t get to choose how and when I die, but I can choose to die with no regrets. I don’t plan to leave words unsaid, goals unaccomplished, or opportunities not taken.
In the spirit of that attitude and to pay tribute to my lost sisters and colleague……I did zero work over break. I saw friends, spent time with family, took my husband on a three day getaway to San Francisco, slept, walked my dog, and celebrated the holidays. It was wonderful.
In health news, here is the latest:
-My anemia is resolved and blood counts are back to normal after my last blood draw in November. I am still tired, but I have lost the anemia excuse……dang it!
-My complex ovarian cyst has also resolved and is no longer giving me problems. According to the ultrasound report, my ovaries “appear normal.” I love the terminology they use to cover themselves in case they miss something…..LOL!
-No further complications or reoccurrences from the infection in September. Part of me still feels like that was just a bad nightmare.
-I have officially broken up with my plastic surgeon. No more follow-up visits necessary. At least not for my breast reconstruction. I was wondering if he might give me a discount on Lipo though, since I have been such a good customer. I do have to say, leaving was hard. He was a pretty big part of my life for a good year and a half. Funny how attached we get to doctors.
-I see my oncologist and get my infusion on January 20th. No scan is currently planned.
I hope everyone had a wonderful end to 2013. I wish all of you an abundance of health and happiness in 2014!