Cancer Stories

n = 1

Our lives revolve around numbers.

They can be inconvenient, like the number of minutes we have to wait for something, with more obviously being bad, and fewer being better.

Wait long enough though, and people start saying things like, “good things come to those who wait.”

They can be points of pride, like the number of years we can claim to have lived on this planet, with more being better once again, except for when it becomes too long, or falls too short.

Then people seem to discover the phrase, “it’s not about the years in the life, but the life in the years.”

We talk endlessly (but not directly) about the numbers in our bank accounts, and more importantly for some, how many commas separate them.

But, of course, it never buys what you need it to.

All these numbers seem to matter so much, until they don’t.

We measure, calculate, project, record, live by, and through them, even if we think we don’t. They can show, tell, do the talking, dictate, prove, disprove, manipulate, and control. It’s funny how we wear numbers as a second skin without realizing it, and as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to tell where they end, and we begin.

There seems to be this sweet spot within all of these numbers that none of us can grasp, but tragically, we know what it looks like when it passes us by.  These numbers seep into everything we do, see, and move even more seamlessly into what we say.

For example, we know we may have done something wrong if we’re back to square one or if we’re behind the eight ball. Conversely, if someone tells you, “that makes two of us,” you may have found a new friend. In our world, two is always better than one. We might have even done something extraordinary, or something so eloquently simple that people find it extraordinary, if we put two and two together.

But be wary if anyone has to tell you a thing or two about the two and two they have put together because I promise you, that will be bad.

All of these numbers drift on and off our tongues and swirl around our lives aimlessly. One moment they are our fortress, the next, our prison. They too seem to be searching for that sweet spot.

We use these same numbers as a marker of our health and the fullness of our lives, but they also become a cross you bear when you find yourself far from those luxuries. If you happen to be 1 in 2 women, or 1 in 3 men, at some point, your life will be reduced to five-year survival rates and the efficacy of this drug or that.

People will start saying phrases like, “I have a friend that is doing really well on This Clinical Study.” You will find yourself face to face with charts, graphics, and endless studies. The studies will each have an n number, the number of participants, the number of people who have gone where you are going. It will feel like you should have paid a little bit better attention in statistics.

Some will say numbers that you like. Many will not.

Each one will feel like a referendum that was called in your honor. However, it will never feel like it should have been up for a vote. It feels like only one should count anyways. You will despair or rejoice or hug or cry as each fresh click or scroll reveals the rest of your life. It will be written in the oldest language we know. 

People will say things like, “Well, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. There are no guarantees in life anyways.”

These people aren’t staring into the headlights.

These numbers bury you. They extinguish the light from even the brightest of rooms. Even on the best days, they follow you. They are still true, even when they fall quiet.

It’s scary.

I am on the wrong side of a number. Many of us are. It feels like we have already lost, the battle fought many times before we arrived, but we haven’t even begun yet.

We put so much stock into numbers and plan our lives around them. We calculate and predict what we would do based on the experiences of others.

It makes us feel like we are in control.

It makes us feel like what is happening to us isn’t just random chance but a situation that was highly anticipated and carefully planned for.

It’s funny how we throw them out the window when what we hoped would happen does not.

I asked a friend going through a case similar to mine how he dealt with it all. He said, “At first, it was hard. It can be so hard. Now, I don’t look at the numbers. I figure, I have to do it either way, so they don’t really matter do they?”

I needed to hear that.

No number can define or describe or predict or anticipate or prepare you for your journey.  Honestly, they don’t seem to matter too much to me either. It doesn’t matter what has happened for anyone else. No number can tell you what is going to happen with you.

You are an n of 1, as my Dad likes to say.

The only outcome that matters.

4 thoughts on “n = 1

  1. Will…I love your writing. Thank you for opening your heart through your keyboard and letting those of us who love you feel connected. I hope the process of writing and all that entails helps you propel yourself forward and centers you to be able to summon your incredible well of inner strength 💕

  2. The piece I just read about numbers and our obsession with them was very on point and eloquent. I have been an accountant my entire life and always measured things with facts and numbers so your point of view was very thought provoking for me. You are so right about how we should not let numbers define us. Keep sharing and stay strong.

  3. At 79 your piece put into perspective my own flirtation with numbers. Sometimes why have I lived this long when others don’t, to how much time have I left. But as you say, they are numbers and I’m not really interested in letting them matter to me. As you say, life is a journey and I plan to live each day to the fullest without being invested in where the path ends.
    Thank you for being you

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