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When My Mother’s Cancer Forced Her to ‘Play the Odds’

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My mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma one year ago when she went to the emergency room for back pain, only to find that the cancer had eaten through her bones. After a year of grueling treatment, she was told yesterday that it is highly recommended she go through with a donor stem cell transplant that will take over the next year of her life. She will have to be matched with a donor, she will need a caregiver for at least three months, she will be in isolation for weeks and she will be violently ill for more days than anyone cares to count.

The doctor called the procedure “high risk” and “high reward.” His language was plain, and he spoke in absolutes. There is a 10 percent chance she will die during the transplant. There is a 60 percent chance she will be alive three years after the transplant, there is a 40 percent chance she will be alive five years out. If she decides against the transplant, the numbers are grim.

The news came like a swift punch to the gut, a quick pull of the rug underneath my feet. This is the first time the statistics were shared in such black and white terms. This was the first time we started to focus on the numbers instead of the words we heard over and over: treatable, but not curable.

The numbers taunted me, they made me cry uncontrollably and they made me head pound. Are we supposed to live our life with these numbers dictating how we feel?

67 percent of second marriages end in divorce, yet my husband and I are so grateful we are to have found each other for our second chance.

Birth control pills are 99.7 percent effective when taken daily. I never missed a day, yet two of my children came into my life by surprise.

There is roughly a 1.5 percent chance of having a child with autism, and a 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child diagnosed. We have two handsome, joyful and perfect boys we are raising. They have both been diagnosed with autism.

One percent of people on earth have green eyes: I do.

I am not a statistic, my children are not a percentage and my mother is certainly much more than a number.

Looks like we have no choice but to play these odds; we may not know how the results are going to fall, or if the risk will be worth the reward. I can not obsess over the future and spend my days crying over the “what ifs.”

Right now, my mother is here with me. Right now, my mother has a chance of being here a long time. I can’t predict how I will feel in a year or two, but right now I am 100 percent grateful that we have the opportunity to play the odds.

Getty image via Rostislav_Sedlacek.

Originally published: February 6, 2020
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