Being a Statistic

One in three women will get some sort of cancer in her lifetime.

One in five women will get breast cancer.

Last summer, those numbers swirled in my head constantly. I remember waking up from 12+ hours of comatose, chemo-induced sleep thinking about them. I started doing Katie Math:

I have four sisters-in-law; I am one of five.

I had four roommates in college; I am one in five.

I have four female cousins on my mom’s side; I am one in five.

I have three female cousins on my dad’s side; I am one in four (even better, right?)

I kept doing this sort of math with all the women in my life, and my conclusion was: I am the statistic. At first that was depressing, but then I got it in my head that maybe, because I was the statistic, they would not have to be.

I convinced myself of this. By getting breast cancer, maybe I somehow “saved” those I loved from having to go through what I did.

Less than a month after my yearly mammogram came back clear (yay!), a friend and colleague disclosed that she just had a biopsy come back as breast cancer. Then a month later, a college friend texted me that she had just been diagnosed as well.

I was consumed with sadness for them. My sleep became disrupted. I felt helpless, and some how guilty. Why had this happened to them? Wasn’t I the statistic in everyone’s life? I was the one in three, the one in five.

My colleague’s cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes, and they got the tumor with surgery. She does not need chemo. I thought my reaction would be jealousy, but it was unbridled relief for her. I actually cried when I saw her message. Radiation still sucks: it’s a pain to do, plus there are some pretty stupid side effects. But it’s not the life-sucking awful of chemo.

My college friend is undergoing chemo right now to shrink a tumor before having surgery. Having gone through it before, I wish there was something I could do to make it all less scary and horrible.

I had a couple friends who have gone down this path before me, and they both looked at me the same way–a way I couldn’t figure out at the time. It was different than everyone else. Everyone else looked at me with sympathy and pity, but their look was different–more urgent somehow. I get it now: they were giving me the look of recognition and helplessness. They saw their journey in me and there was absolutely nothing they could do to prepare me or make me less afraid.

They were wrong though: seeing them thrive after going down this path helped more than anything could, I think.

Being a statistic is not saving those I love from also becoming a cancer statistic. But by talking about what my journey was like, by listening to how theirs is similar and different, and by just being a regular, boring human after it’s “over,” I hope that I am giving them that light that it will not always suck.

It will not always be this hard.

It will pass, and then you will be a statistic too: one of the 90% of women who survive.

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

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