Thursday, August 3, 2006

Stalkers and Death Row

People often say that no one knows when we’re going to die; we could be hit by a bus tomorrow. I think I’ve mentioned before that this analogy doesn’t work because once you’ve had cancer, it’s always out there, its sole purpose is to kill you, and you have to spend the rest of your life dodging it.

Someone said it’s like a stalker. That’s a more apt analogy. Cancer is your own personal, dedicated, invisible stalker. You may not see it for a very long time, but you will always live with the fear that one day, when you think it might have gone away for good, it will jump out at you and you’re back to the drawing board. Back to the chemo, surgery, radiation -- the armory of weapons to beat it back, but never ever completely destroy it.

I’ve heard this mantra over and over again: “Cancer is not a death sentence.” I believe that, especially when it’s early stage breast cancer, for which the 5-year survival rate is 80-100%. But I have Stage IV breast cancer, and statistically, I have a 20% chance of being alive in five years. I know I’ll be in that 20%.

But going back to the death sentence analogy... I wonder what chance a death row inmate in the U.S. has of living to a natural death while waiting for his sentence to be carried out? I’ll wager it’s much greater than 20%. So statistically speaking, I’d have a greater chance of survival as a death row inmate in the U.S. than I do as a Stage IV breast cancer patient.

In a way, cancer IS a death sentence, but one with many avenues of appeal. A death row inmate is marked for death but he can put hope in his lawyers, the legal system, the state’s mercy, to escape death. There is always the fear that all appeals will end at some point, but that doesn’t stop him from appealing his sentence. I have faith in medicine, in doctors, and in my own strength and ability to kill my cancer, or at least keep it at bay for a long time. But the fact is, I’ve been marked for death and someday, I may run out of appeals. That doesn’t mean I stop trying.

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