The good news is that Aetna has agreed to pay for my annual routine diagnostic Breast MRI. The bad news is that this is because, according to my doctor, I have a 24% lifetime risk of getting breast cancer.
It’s right there in black and white on the paperwork she sent to Aetna.
How did she come up with this number? I have no idea. Probably the same method she used to conclude that I only have a 3% chance of having a heart attack within the next 10 years.
I have a good doctor who keeps on top of all the algorithms. She tells me which diagnostic tests to take, and then plugs in the resulting data and tells me the bad news.
Or, occasionally, the good news. For instance? Odds are that I won’t have a massive coronary like my dad did. (At age 49. He survived and lived for another 40 years.)
I’m far more likely to get breast cancer, like my mother (and two of my first cousins). But since diagnostic tools and cancer treatments are much better now than they back were in the 1970s when mom was diagnosed, the odds are that I won’t die of it.
Cousin Ruthie and Cousin Jane are both in remission and going strong, decades after they were diagnosed.
When and if I do get cancer, I can count on the fact that my doc will run the numbers and let me know the odds that I’ll survive it.
If she can get me to stop whimpering long enough to tell me.
When it comes to health-related information, some people think that ignorance is bliss, but I prefer to know where I stand. If my cancer risk is three times higher than most women my age, I want to know about it. So that I can, for instance, get annual screening Breast MRIs to make sure that if I do get cancer, I’ll receive the earliest possible diagnosis.
And yet, seeing that 24% lifetime risk written down is disquieting. My life, reduced to a number — and not a particularly reassuring one.
Of course my optimistic nature leads me to believe that I’m safely in that 75 % of women who won’t get breast cancer.
Even though the fates have been known to laugh at my optimism.
For instance? I recently learned that the man I’d loved and trusted for the past 20 years had a secret girlfriend on the side for the last 10.
What are the odds of that?
Higher than you might think, actually, given the stories of all the similarly betrayed people who got in touch after I published an essay about discovering that Mark had a secret girlfriend.
It’s inevitable that a small percentage of seemingly solid relationships will end like that. Not just with infidelity, but after a whole decade of infidelity.
I just didn’t expect mine to be one of them.
If only there were an algorithm for THAT.
One great big gigantic complicated equation into which I could plug everything I knew about Mark, plus my own romantic history, and then add in data like where I was born, how many times my mother smiled at me while I was growing up (a lot), my current job (library work), whether I’m far too trusting by nature (Yes!), my favorite movie (Blazing Saddles), my height and weight, how much coffee I drink (probably too much) and how I feel about romance and fidelity and porn films and phone sex, and out would come The Ultimate Answer to the question of whether the man I’m with is a wonderful guy — or a putz who has been in love with Mollie Greene for the past decade.
On the other hand, numbers aren’t everything. Miracles happen. People beat the odds all the time. All it takes is chutzpah. The right attitude. Exercise. Love. Supportive friends and family. The right diet.
And lots and lots of luck.
When it comes right down to it? Life is chancy. You can be in a wonderful relationship with Mr. Right and have a very low chance of getting a serious illness — and then step off the curb and get flattened by a bus.
Between my 24% lifetime cancer risk, finding out about Mollie and the results of the recent Presidential election, I could spend the rest of my life hiding under the bed. Instead, I’ll get my breast MRI, put my profile up on Match.com, cross my fingers and keep on going.