January 15, 2021

#213 What’s Your Number?

When I was in college and later in my early 20s, our girl posse would get together, sit around in cute pajamas or Juicy Couture tracksuits, drinking cheap wine, munching on nachos, and playing one of two games – the utterly silly “Have You Ever?” or the more intriguing game “What’s Your Number?”

When I was in college and later in my early 20s, our girl posse would get together, sit around in cute pajamas or Juicy Couture track suits, drinking cheap wine, munching on nachos, and playing one of two games – the utterly silly “Have You Ever?” or the more intriguing game “What’s Your Number?”

Let me pause here to apologize to any men reading this entry – I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but no, on girl’s night women do not dress in scantily clad lingerie and have pillow fights in slow motion—really!

My favorite game was always the Number game because it was simple.  The “number” in question referred to the number of your, um, “romantic” partners to-date. It was the ultimate game of judgment.  If your number was too low, well you were either virtuous to a fault or there was something wrong with you.  If your number was high –high being a subjective term—everyone was intrigued and wanted names and details, but in the end, you were a slut. No doubt about it.

The secret of course, which we all knew, is no matter the number we nubile college girls confessed; it wasn’t true.  Everyone lied.  If you wanted the truth, you took the low numbers offered up and doubled them; for the girls who gave a high a number, you divided their number by two.

Looking back, it was a great way to spend girl’s night and it always led to interesting gossip that probably wasn’t true either. Anyway, it was fun!

Now, all these years later, my number is 26!  Before your jaw hits the floor, you should know that I’m not talking about the old “What’s Your Number” game, I’m talking about the new What’s Your Number game — the one that asks my chance of cancer recurrence.  When I finished treatment (surgery, chemo, and radiation), my number was 13.  As in I had a 13% chance of recurrence, and therefore an 87% chance of non-recurrence.  Now those were odds I could live with! (No pun intended, but it is kind of clever).

So how did I get from 13% to 26% in just a matter of months?  For those of you following my blog, you know that I had been wrestling with the decision to stay on my endocrine therapy medication or not.  It made me feel awful almost all the time. Enough was enough.  I’d given my life over to cancer since June 2016.  Most people don’t know that I was diagnosed with uterine cancer just eight months before being diagnosed with breast cancer.  Anyway, two years is a long time to feel lost, to search for yourself, and to realize you aren’t going to find her as long as that medicine is pumping through my system.

People would tell me that I just had to get used to my New Normal.  Fuck that!  I wanted my old normal back – and by the way— I still wanted two symmetrical boobs too. (I got those in November!)

So, I prayed about what to do, and increasingly I felt like the only reasonable road for me was to go off the medication.  I was tired all the time and the weight kept piling on.  I had control over nothing it seemed. I couldn’t live like this for another 7-10 years.

The praying helped put me at ease, but just in case, I went to see a spiritual reader.  Yes, you read that correctly.  She got decent reviews on Yelp, so I figured why not?  Plus, it would be interesting to know what the universe thought about all this cancer business.  This lady was bona fide crazy!  I mean bat-shit crazy.  But, she told me what I wanted to hear “Your cancer isn’t going to come back.”  Well, if she said it, it must be true!  I decided to believe her.

I talked to my doctor about it too.  Well, truthfully, I sent her an email; I was worried that if I actually spoke to her she would try to talk me out of it.  She said the protocol is what it is, and we could try different medicines until we found the right one. But in the end, she supported my decision.  People have to weigh quality of life over quantity of life, she said. On the bright side, I’m thrilled that my Google search was wrong in calculating my chance of recurrence at north of 60% but seems to really be 26%.  Math has never been my strong suit.

I then began to read books about managing cancer risks metabolically and through life-style changes.  One book, Anti-Cancer, by David Servan-Schreiber MD, PhD really spoke to me.  I read it twice.  I learned that there are foods that feed your cancer and foods that cause cancer cells to die. So, I’ve changed how I eat, exercise, and drink (most of the time).  And, I’ve never felt better. At least not in a long time.


Except, when I stop to think that by making this choice I’ve also chosen to perhaps miss the wonderful times ahead. Like when my girls get married, then have children, and those children call me G’ma Charlie. I wouldn’t be there to watch my girls turn into mature adults or give them advice and help guide them through the tough times. I wouldn’t be there when Greg passed away early, peacefully, in his sleep one night, leading me to hook up with some 85-year old billionaire – someone one old enough to think I was a cute young thing, but too old to do anything about it! That last one is a joke of course. I adore my husband.

My mother died a couple of years after Greg and I married. She never met my girls, although I see her in them all time. She wasn’t there to guide me through anything. She was sick, and she died. There was a time when I resented her for dying on me even though I knew it was the best thing for her and she had no control of it anyway. None of us do really, I suppose. But if I’m not there for my girls will they resent me for it? Will they feel like they were not enough to keep me fighting? Will I have made an incredibly selfish decision? Will I have disappointed them?

It’s heady stuff. And, it turns out I’m not alone. Nearly 25% of women choose to forego endocrine therapy and take their chances. They don’t want the crazy side effects of mood swings, joint pain, broken bones, nausea, hot flashes, and the list goes on. They want their lives back too.

But, alas, while engaging in all this pondering and reading, I came across a recent study that said women with my type of cancer who did the “right” thing and stayed on endocrine therapy for the requisite amount of time still were not free and clear. According to Dr, Jennifer Litton at MD Anderson Cancer Center (the best cancer center ever!), “Many women think okay, I’ve made it to five years, I know I’m safe. But for estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, it’s a continued life-long risk” of recurrence.

Well damn.


Karen Cleveland

JANUARY 12, 2019 AT 1:09 AM

I wish I had one ounce of your courage to live a truly authentic life. Your inspiration will fuel your daughters, granddaughters and their children as it does all of us who know you. Thank you for sharing so beautifully and honestly.


JANUARY 12, 2019 AT 3:28 AM

Praying for many healthy, C-free years dear one. My mom stopped her meds as well. Quality of life is important.