I’ll Be One In A Million If You Will Too

For some reason, one in 50,000 is a number that has stuck in my head over the years. When I was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma this was what my family were told was my chance of getting the disease. (What can I say, other than, “Thanks, medical profession, for quantifying the rarity of bone cancer in children”?)

I don’t remember in which context I was told the number, just the number itself. My mom actually remembers the number as being much, much larger. In reality the precise value of the number is irrelevant, and it’s only the magnitude that means much. Today, as someone who studies disease in populations, the idea of telling an individual or family such a figure seems strange. But maybe someone asked a doctor, and this number was the answer given.

The thing about chance, or more accurately risk, is that it is only really meaningful if you haven’t yet developed the outcome. Maybe you can change the risk of an outcome by avoiding certain known ‘risky’ behaviours such as driving or smoking, but it is only in very rare cases that the risk of an outcome can be eliminated. Or the risk factors may be things you can’t change, like sex or age. But, the thing is, quantification of risk becomes somewhat meaningless once you’ve developed the outcome. You’re ‘The Chosen One*’, whether you like it or not.

I tend to think about the chance moments in life as a series of decks of playing cards. We have a measure of control when we’re drawing the card, but there’s always a large element of chance to the whole process. And when it comes to the risk of uncommon things happening, in the vast majority of draws from the deck the uncommon doesn’t happen. Irrationally, it’s this same fact that serves as reassurance when a person goes swimming in the ocean in which somewhere there are sharks.

But sometimes what is very uncommon does happen. To be uncommon, but still occur, it has to happen to someone. It’s this fact that keeps the lottery tickets selling, though it contradicts the logic employed above.

At some point in life, something uncommon happens to just about everyone. And when thinking about that possibility, in conjunction with contemplating how we will respond to it, well, the possible futures are both endless and enriching.

*I’m always reminded of a quote from the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. ‘Right. I’m the chosen one. And I choose to be shopping’.

Short Note

For 15 years I almost never wore shorts. And I am selective about the circumstances under which I wear them. I always wear pants to work, where shorts are common attire. When out in the small town where I live, I typically wear pants. But, these days, when I climb, I almost always wear shorts. I do this because it’s too hot for pants most of the time, plus, it allows me to use the socket of my prosthetic to move up as I climb.  Also, I climb on a customized foot that is half the size of my right foot and I swap feet before climbing, which means that my leg is really no secret out at the crag.

However, it was not always this way. When I first started climbing about 5 years ago I climbed only in pants. I bought my first pair of shorts in a very long time about four years ago.

I chose pants as a teenage, as I was entering high school. It was a long time ago, but I think my decision had as much to do with my search for normalcy as it did with attempting to conceal my prosthetic. At that point in my life I’d spent over two years undergoing chemotherapy, surgery, and smiling bravely for concerned adults. I’d had enough of being gawked at. I was starting high school in a different city, which meant a whole new group of kids I’d never met. I think, like most adolescents, I just wanted to fade into the background.

Today, I continue to choose pants over shorts, mostly. I suppose this is because I want some control over my first impression on people. My gait is good enough that unless a person pays close attention, my artificial leg goes undetected. There are other things that I do. Without thinking. Almost.

When I sit with people on a couch, I will sit to their left so my ‘real leg’ is closest to them. And I will often walk just behind people if I’m concerned about appearing awkward, such as when walking on uneven or sloping ground. There are people I have known for years who don’t know about my leg, and in some instances they have found out only because I’ve told them.

We all do it: We form associations with the people that we know according to particular characteristics. These characteristics can be physical or associated with personality. We describe people to others according to these characteristics. And I suspect most of us have had the thought ‘I don’t want to be known as the [blank] girl.’

I am comfortable with my artificial leg, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of being described according to it. I’m happy to be ‘the tall girl’, or ‘the blue-eyed girl’. Just not ‘the-one legged girl’. And I’ll take pretty much anything over ‘the disabled girl’.

I listened recently to a podcast about an actress who manages this sleight of hand better than I. I’ve included a link to it here.