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cancer life

When “What Are the Chances” Means Nothing

This week alone, I’ve diagnosed myself with three cancers: brain cancer, melanoma of the eye, and cervical cancer.

I get this way whenever I have doctors appointments. I had an eye exam yesterday, and during my last two eye exams I was diagnosed with a pseudo-tumor and a nevus of the eye, consecutively.

The latter is simply a freckle on the eye that one has keep out of the sunlight and generally keep an ‘eye’ on (ha) so that it doesn’t progress into melanoma.

The former, the pseudo-tumor, was a bit more…daunting? It presented as swelling of my optic nerve (we later learned this was likely an effect of chemo, as it occurred a month after my last treatment).

But, of course, to save the asses of the PHDs, I endured a brain MRI (LOUD AF), a spinal tap (which I strangely enjoyed), an awful medication called “acetozolomide” that made the simple task of walking up a slight hill nearly impossible, and the “Maleficent” of all neuro-opthamologists.

But brain-tumor testing yielded no brain tumor…thus, a “pseudo-tumor.” A term I only wish I had made up.

I am guilty of letting a few too many years go by without going to the eye doctor. I don’t like doctors, and I try to limit my visits to the ones that seem the most important (don’t even ask me the last time I went to the dentist). And with a make-up caboodle’s-worth of free contact lenses from my ex-boyfriends mother who worked for an eye doctor, I stretched those lenses to last until now. So…four years.

Which means, yes. The only reason I even entertained going to the eye doctor again was because I ran out of contact lenses from my ex-boyfriend’s mom. Irresponsible, I know. But I’m getting better and better about going to the doctor, and that’s all I can do.

Regardless, I was certain I was about to head into news of either a brain tumor, a pseudo tumor, or melanoma of the eye. None of which, it turns out, I have.

What were the chances anyway?

Next week I have to go to the gynecologist. Always fun. Always delightful.

And having received abnormal pap results in the past–although very common in women–I’ve been prepping myself for cervical cancer.

Silly? Yes, probably.

What are the chances?

Hmm. That’s often the phrase I’m presented with when I express on any given Monday that I believe I have a brain tumor, melanoma of the eye, and cervical cancer.

“Those chances are slim. Those cancers are rare. Besides, what are the chances you get struck with another cancer?

But that is entirely the point.

I have had cancer. And one day in 2008 I whispered to myself, “what are the chances this is nothing more than a sore hip?

The chances were slim.

But it was more than a sore hip.

Ask any cancer survivor and I’m sure they’ll agree. One of the only things worse than living with the fact that you have cancer is the feeling you had when the rug was pulled out from underneath your feet. When you’d been preparing yourself for the likelier chance, and you were granted the unlikely.

When you became the “slim” in “slim to none.”

You remember that always because it was the exact moment you lost control. You never want to lose control again. And “What are the chances” means nothing.

So, you try (however silly it may seem) to prepare for the worst in all cases. You ready yourself for brain cancer, and melanoma, and cervical cancer. Because what are the chances?

It doesn’t matter. There is a chance. And you will not lose control again.

Which brings me, finally, to the proper point of this post: you.

I’d like to ask you the question, that you–specifically those of you who’ve never faced debilitating disease before–often ask me.

What are your chances?

What are the chances that you or your loved ones will get coronavirus in the coming months?

I’ll tell you, they are a lot more likely than my chances of being diagnosed with cervical cancer next week, and yet here I sit mentally preparing myself for the worst.

And there many of you sit at the pub, or at brunch, or preparing your normal Thanksgiving feast for twenty.

I’ve mostly held back my “cancer survivor’s view” of the coronavirus pandemic in favor of the more typical one: do your part, wear a mask, rah, rah, rah, stay at home.

But now I’m here to say this. I say it not as a Democrat. I say it not as a Republican. I say it without deference or feeling for Donald Trump or Joe Biden or Queen Elizabeth or Joe the Plumber: the control you might feel you’re having exerted upon you by being asked to wear a mask is absolutely nothing compared to the control you will LOSE in the midst of serious disease.

It’s the same loss of control we, as cancer survivors, felt in the moment of our diagnosis. The same loss of control we fear so vehemently that instead of looking forward to getting a new pair of glasses, we try to be mentally prepared for melanoma of the eye.

That loss of control then gives way to a loss of dignity.

Your bodily functions, however personal or embarrassing, are now charted and monitored and are more than just your own business.

Not being honest about your last bowel movement could possibly kill you.

The color of your pee is now of utmost importance and a matter of life and death.

At least you are in isolation, so the only people exposed/interested in the consistency of your bile are the nurses risking their lives to care for you.

It’s disgusting. Yes, disgusting. And humiliating. So disgusting and humiliating in fact that you can’t help but feel as though you’re nothing more than the sum of your creatnine and bilirubin count.

You’re a biology project.

At least when I reached this point, I had my mother and father there in the room to hug me and remind me who I was.

I can’t say this would’ve been as effective via Zoom.

I’m not trying to find out.

I’m going to stay inside. I’m going to wear my mask when I can’t. I’m not going to have a big holiday celebration.

So that my chances decrease.

I have control. Of those chances.

Not total control. But some control.

I’m not an influencer. I don’t believe my little rant here will reach millions. I have a nice little following here, of which I’m grateful. No matter the walk of life you come from.

But I have no delusions of how many people I can reach with this message. I do hope, however, that some of you will pass this on.

I don’t want you to die from coronavirus. I don’t want your loved ones to die from coronavirus.

When this is all over, those who still believe that masks did nothing to help, that social distancing was meaningless…I welcome your opinions. I welcome your “those masks were stupid” messages.

And if somehow, someday, it’s proven that these precautions were without effect, I will gladly listen to your ‘I told you so’s” and I’ll even respond by telling you how right you were, but how glad I am that we were careful anyway.

Please be responsible. Please be careful. Please wear a mask even if you think it’s pointless. Please reconsider your holiday gatherings.

There is more “loss of control” at stake than just the feeling of the wind on your chin in a public place.

And your chances of knowing this greater loss grow increasingly likely each day.

By Jesse Pardee

Stream of consciousness blather about my blackheads and mindfulness quest.