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By the Numbers

Growing up I always liked numbers. In high school, I’d get bored and watch the clock and on a sheet of paper on my desk I’d keep track of how much time was left in class, measured in minutes, seconds and percentages. During baseball season (pre-internet), I‘d keep track of the Phillies and Greg Luzinski’s batting average. I’ll calculate it per at bat and do what ifs on what it would take for him to hit certain hitting milestones. The math sections of standardized test were my jam. When I ran, I’d pay attention to how many steps it took between each sidewalk section. This allowed me to keep a consistent pace.

In college, I dominated math classes, that is until I got to calculus. That seriously caused me some heartache and challenges and led me to change my major. What’s interesting is that if I exerted the work and focus I put on my cancer on to my college studies, I might have a PhD by now. Oh well.

Cancer by the numbers

For me, cancer is all about numbers. My monthly labs. Hemoglobin, wbc, light chains, creatinine and on and on. You’d think I’d have spreadsheets with all these numbers coming out my ears, given my history. For years now, it has been my intention to create these. But I just haven’t. I’m guessing it’s because it’s not as fun. But I’ve got all these numbers locked in my head. When I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, all the numbers on my lab results made no sense. I had no idea what anything meant. There is still a lot that means nothing to me. But for the key measures, I can scope those out and compare to past results in a jiffy.

Also, when diagnosed, my nurse explained how chemo cycles work. 28 days per cycle. Days 1 through 28. My current regimen I do my infusion on day 1. I take my oral chemo on days 1-21. Then a break from 22-28. Then start over. When the pharmacy calls each month to renew my chemo prescription, they ask how many pills I have left. I used to lie and say I had less than I really did. For some reason, I didn’t want them to know how many I had left, that somehow it might impact when they sent the new cycle’s shipment.

Setting goals and persevering

I also track how long I’ve had the disease in months. In May of this year, I’ll hit 96 months. I weigh myself every morning. I acknowledge my half birthday every year. I was diagnosed when I was 49 and was looking forward to turning 50. It seemed like such a cool milestone.  In three years, I’ll turn 60 years old. Considering everything, that will be massive.  Each year I already celebrate on the date I was diagnosed. It’s a celebration of being alive and kicking. Ten years will be giant!! When diagnosed, my goal was to live with the disease for 2 years. I hit 2 years and my goal became 5 years (60 months). I hit 5 and my goal became ten years. But I’ll be bold and push the goal out to 15 years right now and not wait for my 10-year milestone.

With the new year, I am trying to keep better track of everything, starting January 1. How many treatments I’ve had. How many books I’ve read. How many miles walked. A couple of years ago, my mom shared with me a pseudo-annual report that a friend of hers did, that reported on how many things were accomplished the previous year. It was a slick document, with graphs and charts and narrative. It was pretty darn cool and I thought I should do the same thing. That’s my goal this year. Hopefully, I stick with it and don’t end up wasting time watching the clock. Ah, the games we play to persevere.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    I do the same thing – setting goals for my life and treatments. Right now my goal is 5 more years in regards to treatment, but I’m planning on seeing my granddaughter graduate. She’s 5 so I know that’s aggressive, but still – why not. Good luck to you and thanks for sharing.

  • bluchs
    8 months ago

    I never used to even think about blood and numbers.
    I Mean really?
    But now it is all about the numbers, especially right now.
    My health is again declining, and I may need a stem cell transplant, so the numbers have become very important to me.
    Today My hemoglobin is at 8.6, last Friday they were at 9.5 etc. etc.
    Plus red and white blood cells, well every week they get worse.
    It has only been 6 weeks since my last blood transfusion.
    My legs don’t want to work today, and depression?
    Well we all know about depression.
    Plus yes I also think about, how long do I have.
    At first, I wanted to live for 2 years, then 4 years.
    Well in 40 more days, it will be 4 years and I want to live for at least 2 more years.
    I am sure if I live 2 more years I will still want more time.
    Don’t all of us with cancer want more time???
    I document everything, I have to be done lists, drug lists ( which state how many, and at what time ) what My pain level is, when I take them etc. etc. All color coded of course!
    As of today I have taken 622 Imbruvica 420mg ( chemo pills )
    I have always been obsessive compulsive, but this feels different, somehow?
    I have days, when I want to live for ever, and I have days, that I just want it to all end?
    I set some goals a few months ago, and I set a plan to pursue them, I was almost there, within days, and now I am very sick again.
    For me right now, my numbers are, just give me a few more months before, I need to go through a stem cell transplant?
    But it is not up to me, is it.
    Numbers?? hmmm!
    I just don’t know any more, I guess it is all in Gods hand now.
    I am not giving up, I am just getting tired.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    It’s always harder when we’re tired. When I have bad days I have 2 mantras. One is – tomorrow will be better and the other is – one day at a time. It usually helps. Good luck to you. Sending prayers.

  • bluchs
    8 months ago

    Ann Harper
    I do Thank You
    For Your Prayers, it helps
    God Bless You

  • VinnieCent moderator
    8 months ago

    @mattg, first of all…you are like the kindred math spirit I never knew existed. I often for my amusement take phone numbers or groupings of numbers from license plates or phone numbers and turn them into fractions just to practice converting them into percentages.

    Anyways, I’m so excited for this and I want to support you in holding you to this. What are some things you are looking to keep track of? I would LOVE if you made a thread on the forums for us to follow along with your progress. Pretty please!


  • Matt Goldman author
    8 months ago

    Vincent, Thanks for the reminder! I had forgotten I wrote this. It’s still on my to do list. I think since May 2 is my diagnosis anniversary date, I’ll start on that day and track things for a year. I’ll ponder this and update you.

    And thanks for the note.

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