The Tyranny of Numbers


Today my mother turns 62.  Her cancer turns 3.


Numbers are so haughty.  Numbers are the aristocracy of time and they know it.  “Without us, how can you measure a life?” they say.  “Without us, how can you identify change?”


My mother has stage 4 ovarian cancer. This means that the tumors in her body are greater than 2 cm. in diameter. Tumors, like children, receive grades, from 0-3, in rising scale of malignancy.  My mother, always the overachiever, carries around inside of her, along her pelvis and liver and pancreas and lymph nodes, a veritable symposium of Grade 3 tumors.


Numbers have no inherent power.  Any authority they have over our lives is authority that we’ve acquiesced.  In this sense, they are politicians.


My mother just finished her 3rd round of chemotherapy with the drug Doxil, which is administered through a port in her chest for 1 hour every 4 weeks.  Before her 45 mg infusion of Doxil, she must first receive 25 mg of diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an antihistamine; 10 mg of dexamethasone (Zema Pak), an anti-inflammatory; 16 mg of ondansetron (Zofran), an antiemetic; 20 mg of famotidine (Pepcid), an antacid; and 1mg of lorazepam (Ativan), an anxiolytic.  Anxiolytics reduce anxiety.


The more power we surrender to numbers, the more we rely on them to control our basic decisions.  We let our clocks dictate our days.  We let our wallets dictate our evenings.  But these are our clocks; these are our wallets.


My mother gave birth to 4 children.  She was a children’s librarian for 15 years.  She has purchased a burial plot at 201 Mt. Vernon Rd. in Sandy Springs, GA.  Across the street from the cemetery is a realtor.


Numbers, like souls, only matter when you require them.  They are trowels and miters and nothing more.  Nothing more.


Today my mother turns 62.  Her cancer turns 3.


She is my mother.


I only have 1.






  1. says

    Wow. Powerful essay there, my friend. A very true essay, as well. Women also fall victim to the numbers of the scale and the sizes of our clothing.

    I didn’t realize your mom had cancer. I’m sorry to hear that. I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. says

    Oh, Josh. You made me cry.

    Love to you and your mom from me and my mom.

    The most important numbers, maybe, are the seconds and minutes, days and months and years we spend with the people we love.

    I cherish every one, every nano-second, every holiday and every Thursday.

    Thanks, sweetheart. And love you.

  3. says

    Joshua, I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I lost my 26-year old cousin, Libby, to ovarian cancer in 2008. Libby was newly-married prior to receiving her initial cancer diagnosis. In memory of my cousin, I created an educational website called “Libby’s H*O*P*E*.”

    Your post is touching yet poignant. I think most, if not all, ovarian cancer survivors would agree with you regarding “The Tyranny of Numbers” when it comes to fighting the most lethal gynecologic cancer. I have witnessed firsthand the tyranny of so-called “ovarian cancer statistics,” which extinguish the hope of many women before the battle even begins.

    If there is any assistance that I can provide to you or your mom with respect to potential treatments options (including clinical trials), please feel free to contact me through the website.

    Your post also emphasizes the importance of learning the four early warning signs of ovarian cancer because a reliable early detection test does not exist yet. For a list of early warning signs, the public can visit

    Given the power of your writing, I would like to feature your post above on the Libby’s H*O*P*E* website as part of our ongoing Vox Populi feature. It will be reproduced exactly as written with full attribution to you (including a hyperlink back to your original post). I will dedicate the feature to your mom. Please give it some thought and let me know at your convenience.

    In the interim, please know that you and your mom are in my thoughts and prayers. Please extend my very best to your mom for a Happy Birthday.

    Best regards,


  4. says


    We wanted to let you know we are here for you and your family. LIVESTRONG offers help and support to folks affected by cancer and their loved ones- everything from insurance, hospice care, emotional support, clinical trial matching and more. Call us 1-855-220-7777 or email through Peace and strength to your family.

  5. Maria says

    A new acquaintance shared this entry of yours with me and I was overwhelmed by it. My mother’s body has been ravaged by 60 years of celiac sprue that went mis and undiagnosed. She’s very ill and frail and may potentially have uterine cancer (we’re still waiting on all her testing to be done). The quality of her life at present is marginal and her life expectancy looks grim. And I live 900 miles away.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words with us. Thank you for reminding us of that priceless, irreplaceable number, 1.

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