Luck is a funny thing, something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. As I’ve gotten increasingly good news and the road ahead has become a good deal clearer, I’ve noticed my mindset shifting.
Initially I spent a lot of hours feeling sorry for myself, marveling at what I saw as truly rotten, horribly bad luck. I fixated on the notion that the “under 35” demographic barely even registers on the colorectal cancer stat charts. (This is alarming, though: A University of Texas study in 2015 predicted that from 2015 to 2030, nearly one-fourth of rectal cancer diagnoses would be in patients ages 20-34. One in four!)
Sure, my paternal grandfather died of colon cancer, but he was in his 80s, and we’re not aware of anyone else in the family who had it. I’m not obese. I’m not a smoker. And this wasn’t a small polyp; over 10 millimeters in diameter is considered large, and mine was a whopping 40 millimeters (roughly an inch and a half). What are the chances?!
But after my exam yesterday, when my wife was talking to my surgeon (I was still groggily sipping ginger ale), he said something to her that we’ve been talking a lot about since then. She asked him what could have caused this. Was it my questionable diet? My embarrassing speed-eating and overconsumption? Stress? When he replied that it was probably none of those (at least not directly traceably), she said, “So was it just bad luck?” He said, “Sure, you could say it was bad luck; or you could say it was really good luck that we caught it when we did.”
Sounds simple and obvious in retrospect, the kind of corny line you use just to try to cheer someone up. But as I’ve spent more time contemplating how bad this could have been (knocking on wood as I write this, since there remain a few unknowns and not-so-great outcomes technically on the table), I’m starting to see the really powerful truth in the good-luck viewpoint — which I was pretty dismissive of just a week ago.
Sure, I should have shown more urgency in seeking out an answer to why my supposedly fixed fistula was still oozing pus. This cancer should have had like eight fewer months to set up shop in the lining of my rectum. But it could have had another 12 months — or more, depending on how long it would have taken for me to finally show any of the textbook colorectal cancer symptoms. And if that had happened, I’d be having very different discussions right now. It’s still not clear to me whether the fistula and the cancer are at all related, but — as a few insightful people have pointed out — there’s a very real possibility the fistula (which a year ago I was bemoaning as its own stroke of rotten luck) saved my life.
If that’s true, I’d say that’s about as good as luck can get. But maybe the point is that luck is sort of a made-up concept, a construction of our minds. It’s never inherently good or bad; we assign those labels to it ourselves. The only things that are real are the perceptions we create of what happens to us. Fortunately, those we control.