Playing With House Money: Defying Cancer Odds

A survivor writes about the experience of being diagnosed with cancer and understanding his odds of survival.

I’m not supposed to be here.

It's a pretty wild feeling. And I still remember sinking to my chair in shock when my oncologist read the grim statistics after five recurrences of bone cancer: less than a 10% chance to live.

Walking out of the hospital that day, the terror reached a peak intensity that I didn’t even know was possible. My nervous system was already fried from unsustainable stress levels of life in constant survival mode… and here came another setback.

The worst part was being told I was almost certainly going to die. Right in front of my family. DEATH. What the hell? I’d just turned 30.

I haven’t revisited these emotions in a while and lately it feels important to remind myself. Because I did work hard to somehow pull off a miracle. At the time, I literally remember thinking just how much a miracle was my only chance, but had no clue where to find it and knew I was up against the clock. Tick tock, tick tock… The guidebook wasn’t out there, believe me, I looked. No easy buttons. But with the help of an incredible support system, I kept pushing myself… Disciplined trial and error, extreme sacrifice of anything not geared towards survival, all in hopes of the slightest chance at making something happen.

See, I forget all this. Or I talk and type about it, but the meaning doesn’t resonate the same for me anymore. Lately, when I share my story, the events that I know so well, that I lived, feel more like a scene out of a movie than real life. Maybe that’s a protective mechanism. And while I defied the statistics and all the doctors who told me they’d never seen a patient overcome what I was up against, it’s hard to really keep the magnitude of this fortune front of mind. I’m alive and I shouldn’t be. I’m with my wife and I shouldn’t be. I get to ride out another chance at life when I shouldn’t be here.

On the other hand, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. COVID-19 has been crazy. Aging is unsettling. Friends and family, my once ever-present rock of support, have moved away, and this next chapter of life is a foreign landscape. I’m trying to figure it out as I go, feeling very much caught in a gray area between knowing how lucky I am compared to other struggling cancer fighters, while still managing my own trauma and keeping up with the pressure of responsibilities back in the real world.

It can feel overwhelming, but I do realize I’m blessed. And sometimes I just need to remind myself to smile and take a breath—because really, it’s all house money at this point. If only I could remember that more.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.