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It's a Numbers Game

Dating. Salesmen. Cancer. What do these three things have in common? No, it’s not “What are things that are awful, Alex?” Well, it is, but it’s also the fact that all three are a numbers game. The more people you ask out, the greater the chance you will get a “yes.” The more clients you try to sell to, the more chance you will make a sale. Then there’s cancer - a numbers game in the truest sense of the word. Your entire life with cancer is determined by number.

The numbers of blood cancer

When I came up with the title for this piece, I thought “how did I not think of this before? It’s so simple and appropriate.” Like the woman who invented the scrunchie, I just found something perfect that already existed and applied it to something else. Unlike the woman who invented the scrunchie, I didn’t turn crazy and sue my own lawyers and lose all my sweet, sweet, scrunchie dollars. Scrunched dollars? Scrunchedidy dollars. Nailed it. I mean think about it, if you have blood cancer, or really any cancer, it feels like you are always focusing on the numbers, and what they mean, good or bad. Blood tests or PET scans, it comes down to what those numbers say and soon your entire outlook and demeanor is tied to a few digits printed on a piece of paper. Like waiting for the results of a home pregnancy test a month after prom night after going to five different proms, the anxiety, fear, and dead is palpable every single time. I heard. From a friend.

White count, platelet count, hemoglobin, immunoglobulins – these and other tests will become your best friends or worst enemies, but either way you will know what they mean, inside and out. It always amazed me that something as simple as a five-second pin prick and then a few tubes of blood could mean so much to a single life. As I would sit in the phlebotomist’s chair, I would wonder to myself, “does this person know that the simple thing they’ve done one hundred times today means so much so me?” This little vacuum tube of blood could be my saving grace or my downfall, I sink or swim based on the numbers. I would watch them put the stickers on the tube and say a silent prayer for the results to be what I wanted, as if that might make the difference between a pass and fail, like handing in a test paper and hoping for an A after guessing on all the questions. Is something I never did. Allegedly.

Worrying and waiting for blood test results

Of course, the worst part was the waiting. Sitting in the exam room and waiting for the doctor or the PA to come in and tell you how things turned out. The thing is, if the results were good, the PA would tell you, and if the results weren’t great, then they’d wait for the doctor to come in. A pretty ingenious system that they developed there. I mean, if you forget that a distracted five-year-old could crack that code. Even so, we played along for some crazy reason, acting surprised every time the PA gave us good news, and the doctor bad news. Granted, I was extremely lucky in that there weren’t many times the news was bad, but like I said, we still played along. Why? Who knows? Maybe I felt like the PA was so young and inexperienced that I would spare her the horror of telling me bad news. Then again, watching her try to wiggle out of it would have been fun – like watching a doctor try to backtrack after he found out the procedure he just told me was botched was done by his own chief of surgery. Oh man, that was a fun appointment, Fun with a capital “FU.”

Do we all just live by the numbers?

For a while, I beat myself up thinking about how much this sucked to live my life by numbers, but then I realized something – maybe it wasn’t so different from what I’d already been doing, nay, from what most people do, healthy or otherwise. Think about it – whether its salary, taxes, income, mortgage, debt, days, month, or years, we always seem to be up against it with numbers. Sure, they might not be the literal embodiment of life or death, but then again, tell that to someone who is about to lose their house because the numbers on the debt side of the equation just got too big. In my case especially, since I had been living with chronic illness for many years previous to cancer (you can read my articles about living with rheumatoid arthritis here), living life by the numbers wasn’t an especially a new feeling, just this time around it was just much more acute.

Getting past the numbers

So what to do? How to get past these numbers that cancer handcuffs us to? Well, you can do is to realize that numbers don’t have to be your whole story. You can still decide to have a positive mental outlook despite the tests not showing what you’d like. I know, I know, it sounds like a bunch of hippie bunk, “just chill out man, don’t be a bummer dude, here’s some homemade granola man,” but it’s possible. It takes work, but it’s doable. You just have to get a good granola recipe, er, and chose not to think negative. Granola helps. I really like granola. Sure, it may not move the needle exactly, but we do know that the mental can affect the physical, and when I had cancer I knew I was willing to try anything, as most of you probably are. Even if you can’t muster up positivity, and I totally get it, just don’t let yourself be dragged down the rabbit hole of tests, numbers, and results. I know, easier said than done, but surround yourself with friends and family, or distract yourself with movies and game – anything that will move your mind away from the downward spiral of assuming bad numbers mean you are doomed no matter what. Did I mention add nuts to the granola?

I think that we can say, without reservation, that the ultimate numbers game is cancer. I mean, if you win, you live, and if you lose, well, then you might as well play the real numbers game and buy a bunch of lottery tickets with your savings. Either way, try not to tie your mental well-being to the numbers like a crazy fantasy football fanatic or a degenerate gambler. I mean, do either of those things sound like something you want to emulate? Well, not unless they are winning… Come on, daddy needs a new pair of shoes!!! Talk soon.

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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.

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