Well-intentioned people thoughtfully remind me I don’t know when my life will end or even if I will die of cancer. The Hypothetical Bus of Death, which runs over so many (hypothetically), could end my life tomorrow morning, instantly removing all my uncertainties and anxieties, replacing them with certitude and serenity.
The first pastor I talked to about my cancer diagnosis was one of these well-intentioned people. “None of us knows when we will die or how. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” he said. I don’t like being told I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. It irks me. It is yet another way to minimize cancer by making it indistinguishable from any other path through life. Yes, all paths through life end in death. But not all paths feel the same.
When I get in my car to drive to my oncologist, I don’t think about being in a fatal accident. I am not overwhelmed with nested Interims of Unknowing related to driving on shared roads with other drivers of dubious skill and levels of distraction or sobriety. I simply drive there, Joe Bonamassa blaring on my stereo, and think about things other than probabilities of traffic fatalities or how my actions could tip the probabilities in my favor.
Cancer, in contrast, commands my attention. The treatments are expensive, often painful, and accompanied by noxious side effects. Insurance, not to mention Social Security, offers a tenuous safety net in continual need of mending. Choosing a medical provider can be a life-or-death decision, and there are so many to choose from. My cancer is terminal, or as the doctors prefer to say, “incurable but treatable.” If I don’t treat it, I die quickly. If I do treat it, I will die less quickly. These Unknowings are more momentous than whether to take the Interstate or a secondary road to drive to my next support group meeting. And when I cross a busy street downtown, I am never on the lookout for the Hypothetical Bus of Death.