Karen Kontak

Against All Odds


It’s crazy to think about how many of my coworkers and friends have been diagnosed with cancer. I am a math person, and the odds just seem insane.

Cancer shouldn’t be this common.

Either medicine is getting much better at detecting cancer, or something is really wrong. The only good thing I can think of when it comes to cancer is that medicine has definitely evolved and treatment options are growing and are so much more successful today than they have ever been before. I didn’t even know what a ‘cold cap’ was or that protecting your hands and feet from neuropathy was something patients do when going through certain types of chemo. One of my close friends was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer 5 years ago and she fought it and continues to be cancer free, but I remember when she first found out about her cancer and I went home and googled survival rate of stage 4 breast cancer patients and I cried. But those rates were from research that was over 15 years old… which, if you think about it makes sense that it has to be old research since it was reporting 5 year and 10 year survival rates… so I try to keep that in mind as I press ‘search’ after typing my worries into the Google search bar. I probably should avoid Google searches, but I have always been someone who would rather know early what the odds are so I know how to try and manage my thoughts and words and my emotions…but trying to manage and actually managing are two different things.

And if you are a family member or friend of someone who has kicked cancer’s butt, you may feel like I do… Very happy that medicine has come as far as it has… and at the same time, very frustrated that your friend’s life and your life will never be the same. I’m not even the one who received a cancer diagnosis, and yet, each time one of my friends who had cancer goes in for a routine checkup, or even just gets a regular old cold or just randomly feels a little sick one day, and my heart skips a beat. I hold my breath every time until my friends get confirmation again that they do, in fact, just have a routine cold and that the cancer hasn’t come back. Little, small things like receiving an unexpected phone call from one of my friends, which should be a happy moment, instead makes me think something must be wrong and I hold my breath again until I get a chance to call them back and hear what they called me for. I wonder if this kind of thinking will ever go back to the way it was, where I just think each phone call is a regular call. Somehow, I don’t think so. And this is why cancer sucks. No one’s life is the same… even after 5 years of being cancer free… or 10 years… or 20 years… the stress of the possibility of it coming back is there … waiting… like a monster under the bed. That monster may never be real, but it sure as hell scares the crap out of you waiting to find out.

Again, I try and focus on the positives that having friends with cancer has taught me. Medicine is powerful and ever-evolving. Friendships are sweeter and family is precious. I definitely don’t take my time on earth for granted any more. I know each day and each hour with my friends and my family is a gift. Time truly is the most precious thing anyone can give you of theirs, and I value any time I get with them more than I can even put into words.