10 percent

Being born and living life is really awesome, but there’s this one pesky little thing about it that I’m kind of shocked that in however many thousands of years of scientific progress we haven’t figured out how to fix, and that’s the fact that you have to die at the end of it.

It’s not that I’m scared to die. No, wait, yes it is.

I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about my odds of survival, and truth be told, they’re pretty good – if anything that forces you to calculate your odds of survival can be considered good. According to both my real doctors and my frenemy Dr. Google, my chances of surviving at least five years (and hopefully much longer) are about 90 percent. Which is great, but which also means that despite all of this horrible, miserable medical junk I’m subjecting myself to, there’s still this nagging 10 percent chance that I’m gonna die.

Ten percent isn’t really that much. I’m kind of a clumsy idiot so really there’s probably a 10 percent chance that I’m gonna die just trying not to trip over my own shoelaces on a bridge or something on any given day. But still, 10 percent is like, not ideal. Ideal would be zero percent. A zero percent chance of dying, ever.

It’s honestly really terrifying not knowing what happens after you die. Because that’s what scares me, really, is the unknown. Suffering will end, sadness will pass, but death is…permanent. And it could be anything. For example, I have this very irrational fear that when you die, actually, your consciousness doesn’t cease, and you remain totally aware of everything that’s happening to you as they close the coffin lid and you go insane from boredom in an immobile body trapped six feet under forever and ever. I know that’s completely insane, and if you’re a doctor, please feel free to explain to me why, so I can stop worrying about it. But my point is like, there’s no way to know.

Maybe Heaven is real and when I die God’s gonna be up there looking like The Dude (which is how I’ve always pictured Him, like a big, laid-back guy in a sweater and moccasins who hates The Eagles) and he’s gonna be like, “Hey, buddy! We’ve got your room ready over here, it’s right next to your grandparents and Princess Diana, and they are all like, super excited to hang out with you. Also, we serve wine. Red or white?” Or maybe the Hindus have it right, and as I take my last breaths, I’m suddenly going to blink back into existence as a majestic bird of prey floating high above cold Alaskan waters. Or maybe it’s just nothingness. Maybe it’s just peace, and love, and contentment for all eternity.

Most of the time, I take my 90 percent odds and I just feel grateful for them. I know I’m in a small minority of incredibly lucky cancer patients who, at least for the time being, can not just hope but can expect to recover someday. But sometimes, I can’t shake the fear that I’m going to wind up in that 10 percent, and sometimes it gets to me to the point that I cry and worry and feel that I might get gypped out of the best years of my life. Once, in one of the latter moods, I cried to Gordie – the most logical and measured of all logical and measured people, ever – that I was sinking into a vicious cycle of terror.

“Babe,” he said, calm as ever, “if there were a 90 percent chance of rain tomorrow, would you bring an umbrella?”

Ninety percent is a pretty good bet, but if there’s one thing I’ve taken away from this experience, it’s this: Nothing in life is certain, ever.  No matter how low or high the odds, anything is possible. Existence is basically a cosmic trip to Las Vegas where in between enjoying yourself at the pool and the dance club you bet your soul on stuff like driving on the freeway, eating red meat and SCUBA diving, and eventually the house always wins but that doesn’t mean you can’t have the best bachelorette party ever while you’re there. So screw statistics. Obliterate odds. Just live today. But don’t forget your umbrella.

28 thoughts on “10 percent

  1. zeena says:

    A big, disgusting, warm, emotionally troubled hug to an amazingly awesome girl ❤ I'll be following along with you every step of the way if it matters at all! You are a huge inspiration!!

  2. Bianca says:

    Hello! I’m here from Devon’s blog, just wanted to say hey! I’m in Australia and I’m cheering you on

    “Maybe Heaven is real and when I die God’s gonna be up there looking like The Dude (which is how I’ve always pictured Him, like a big, laid-back guy in a sweater and moccasins who hates The Eagles) and he’s gonna be like, “Hey, buddy! We’ve got your room ready over here, it’s right next to your grandparents and Princess Diana, and they are all like, super excited to hang out with you. Also, we serve wine. Red or white?” Or maybe the Hindus have it right, and as I take my last breaths, I’m suddenly going to blink back into existence as a majestic bird of prey floating high above cold Alaskan waters. Or maybe it’s just nothingness. Maybe it’s just peace, and love, and contentment for all eternity.”

    Why can’t it be all those things? 🙂

  3. Sam Mackey says:

    um I have the EXACT same thought process about being in a coffin. When I was little, I actually told my parents that I want a TV in there because I thought I’d get bored. And much like my obsession with Swedish Fish, some things just don’t change from my childhood.

    I want a flatscreen and a crate of wine. And, preferably, someone else to hang out with forever……6 feet under.

  4. annbeaton says:

    Amen!

    Trust me, the bouts of panic over your health with decrease with time. This is all very new. Once you’re done with treatment, move away from the medical environment, and pile up more and more healthy days, life comes back in.

    You and Gordie are IT.

    Thinking of you an sending good thoughts every day.

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you! I look forward to returning to a sense of normalcy. Many people have told me the fear fades – I hope they’re right.

      • annbeaton says:

        They are right, Michelle. Nearly impossible to see when you’re in the middle of all this. You have a long, healthy, and important life ahead of you. Godspeed!

  5. Fire Penguin says:

    WTF, God can hate the Eagles, heaven isn’t heaven without “Take It Easy,” bro.

  6. Laura Van Dellen says:

    Your March 28th posting can truly win an award!!!!!

  7. While I don’t want to preach in a comment, I also can’t bear to not tell you that of course there is hope when you die. Jesus gave His own life to give you hope, if you’ll just take it and hold onto it. God doesn’t give you cancer, but He will use it to draw you to Him, so that you can have confidence about what happens when you die. I’m praying you’ll keep searching for the answer — God promises that we’ll find Him when we look for Him (Jeremiah 29:11).

  8. Catherine Schultz says:

    Hi Michelle,
    I wanted you to know that you are my hero in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. We share the love of a precious person whom I call PL and thanks to her I have been following your story from the beginning and continue to cheer you on daily. Kiddo, you ARE gonna beat cancer and Lordy, how your writings inspire others! PL and I are sorority sisters from SDSU and for 30+ years she has been a treasured friend. Now I have you as my newest treasure and I love how you make me laugh and cry all in the same blog. Such a gift you have!! By the way, Gordie sounds like a dream BF and I’m routing for you two as well.
    I’m doing a BC walk in May in San Marino and dedicating it to you: my inspiration of strength, bravery, honesty and kick-ass tenacity. You are one truly amazing young lady!! Sending love and blessings for a happy and healthy tomorrow and 6 decades to come.

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Catherine, it took me a little while to figure out who PL was – could she be somebody I might know better as PH? 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind words, and I hope you enjoy the walk!

      • Catherine Schultz says:

        Hi Michelle,

        Yes it’s little PH and I’m a huge fan of hers as well. :-). I meant every word and keep you in my prayers daily. I hope you had a great Easter. I see a new post and will look forward to reading it tonight.
        Blessing always,
        Catherine

  9. I. TOTALLY. HEAR. YOU!

  10. Theresa says:

    Hi Michelle,
    I found your blog via the articles you had published on the Thought Catalog website. I started reading and 2 hours later, I’ve ready every single one of your posts back-to-back without stopping. You are an incredible writer and sound like a fantastically brave, optimistic, kick-ass kind of girl. I think if I lived in California I would ask you out on a friend-date! Thinking of you from Calgary, Alberta, Canada with all the best wishes in the world. Hang in there girl, you do this!

  11. Sarah Karp says:

    This just might be my favorite post yet, but it’s hard to classify it as a fave because EVERY post I read is my favorite! 🙂 Your writing/inspiration/thoughts never cease to amaze and entertain me! Sending positive vibes from VA –> CA!!

  12. isito says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I have spent a not-insignificant portion of these past two days at work reading every word in this blog, and it’s amazing how close you let your readers feel to you. I haven’t seen you in many years, and until I read your ThoughtCatalog pieces, I had not heard about your diagnosis. I just want to send you my best thoughts and wishes, and to let you know how incredible I think you are with this positive, vivacious, effervescent attitude in the face of trying times. Thank you for your sense of humor and your sincere perspective on the fact that being alive, on any day, no matter how dark, is an astonishing thing. I remember you as such a fun, witty person; it was always a pleasure to be around you, and I’m ridiculously glad to see that you have kept true to your happiest self throughout this entire ordeal. I wish you all the best in the coming months, and will continue to read this blog, which has honestly been more moving (and funny! you are such a great writer!) than I could have expected it to be when I started reading. GO YOU. Stay strong, stay positive, and keep feeling all that love because it is there, in abundant quantities.

    All my very best,
    Isabella

    P.S. Your image of God as The Dude is perfect, especially if he’s dishing out White Russians (which, you know, would go well with the heavenly decor).

  13. karen says:

    Wish I lived on your block so when that nasty 10% creeps up… and gets in your head… and sets your heart racing… I could run over and give you a hug. A good squeeze, followed by a kiss on the head. Amazing how it feeds the squeezer just as much as the squeezed. A beautiful thing.
    Arms around you.
    Karen

  14. SDS says:

    You’re my hero & I love you. I’m always wearing my matching necklace and thinking good thoughts – I’ll be damned if I let that 10% within a 100 yards of you!

  15. […] Wow. So young and so wise. You gotta love this girl. A must read. […]

  16. lisacng says:

    I know this post isn’t about God or afterlife, but we all have to face death at some point in the future, and I hope that everyone has peace with what they believe will be the afterlife. So glad to hear that you have 90% chance of surviving this cancer! Your BF is right. 90% is pretty awesome!

  17. awww… I am three years out from my melanoma diagnosis and my 5 year survival rate is 95%. I hear you…. your mind can go to very bad places… I hope you stay on the bright side most of the time!! People here are right. It fades a bit with time.

  18. fellow10%er says:

    I hear you so much on this. I am also one of the 10% club and I’m going through chemo now. I’ve spent so much time thinking about that 10%. It has occupied such a large place in my mind for the last few weeks, especially during Pinktober, when I kept reading articles claiming that 20-30% of women with early stage disease would eventually die from mets. Like you, I’ve finally just said fuck it. I don’t want to think about those statistics, I just want to live. So, that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to live as best I can and surrender to the fact that I’ve done all I can to eliminate the cancer. I figure that if I go to stage IV, I’ll face that when it happens but at least I could have enjoyed my life in the meantime. I love your blog. Keep on truckin!

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