the highlight

I was always terrified of wasting time. A cancer diagnosis made me reconsider.

Faced with the possibility I’d have no future at all, I abandoned lofty goals and momentum and found something far richer.

Illustration: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Illustration: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The room didn’t spin like they say it does. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. I had no difficulty understanding the verdict: It was incurable.

They could offer no prognosis. They had some general ideas about how they might treat me; it was considered “manageable” in its normal form, but in my case, there was no telling what would or wouldn’t work. They told me that if they could find an effective treatment, I should expect to be on it “for life.”

The week of the 2016 election, my foot had gone numb — paralyzed, actually. I’d first arrived at the neurologist’s office unable to wiggle my toes, and now I was leaving with a singularly rare cancer diagnosis, a blood cancer that had jumped its track and hadn’t shown up as it was supposed to. Even though my blood, lymph, and bone marrow were all clear, a blood cancer had somehow emerged in my cerebrospinal fluid and lodged itself along my spinal cord, forming hundreds of microlesions. The oncologist (who specialized in rare lymphomas) responded, “Get out!” when the neurologist shared the results of my spinal tap. They were looking forward to meeting me. There isn’t much that’s good about being a unique cancer case, but at least the specialists are excited to see you.

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I was always terrified of wasting time.