I’ve been thinking a lot about acceptable risk in the context of living with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) while immunocompromised and COVID and all of what we deal with on a daily basis in the world today. I was a little surprised at the variety of definitions out there, but I do like this one:
The term “acceptable risk” describes the likelihood of an event whose probability of occurrence is small, whose consequences are so slight, or whose benefits (perceived or real) are so great, that individuals or groups in society are willing to take or be subjected to the risk that the event might occur.https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/acceptable-risk
The first time that I overtly encountered the concept of acceptable risk health-wise, outside of professional issues, was when my husband and I had children. We had to think about so many different things and make decisions about so many things outside of our comfort zone as we thought about the world from the perspective as parents. Then, child #2 came along and it was even more complicated.
I vividly remember beginning to understand why parents have such anxiety as I viewed the word from the perspective of a tiny human who was 100% relying on me and my husband to stay alive.
One thing that our pediatrician back then told us we should do to keep our second son safe from the infections our first son might bring home from school was to have our elder son to take a shower/bath as soon as he got home from school. Such a simple thing, but we noticed that instead of us all getting sick quite a bit at the beginning of each school year, having our son get washed up upon arrival home made a big difference. We’ve continued this practice with COVID to ensure that any potential germs from school are washed off right away.
And then I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), started IV chemo, and then moved onto targeted therapy. While my third line that I started a few weeks ago does seem to affect my white blood cells less than my previous treatments, I’ve now been immunocompromised in various ways for more than four (4) years. That’s a lot of time trying to stay safe, trying to avoid getting sick, keeping my immune system as robust as possible, and keeping an eye on the behavior of the people around me.
Then add on COVID-19 and all the issues around that. It’s hard for someone like me to encounter all of the political issues surrounding the very real health issues and not get super triggered. I can’t even quantify how often I’ve been just flabbergasted by people I used to respect talking about how masks don’t help or the danger of COVID isn’t real or the vaccine isn’t reliable. Living immunocompromised gives me a different perspective, I think, and I’m still so sad that so many people don’t have any desire to act in defense of others. How can we as a country be at the place where acting for the greater good isn’t important? Where individual “rights” are more important than the health of others? My kids totally understand and respect that we wear masks and keep socially distanced because that’s how we protect others around us and are kind to others.
I am so sad about where we are.
Looking at the concept of acceptable risk through the lens of not just my own diagnosis, but also within COVID has been so complicated. We have had to look at each individual situation or decision individually from each perspective of all the people involved. And some of those decisions have been hard. We’ve had to give up on doing so many things because we just can’t do it safely. Having to consider how others are behaving in their own lives is a new thing that affects our decision making and I confess that I’ve been really hurt and triggered that people around us haven’t made more of an effort in light of my own vulnerability.
And my conclusion after all of these things is that it is a balancing act.
As a parent, we have to start with the bottom line of what is best for the kiddos and then add in the layers of safety and what is realistic. When we encounter decisions, we have to think about all of these things at the same time. I can say that I tend to err on the side of cuddling and snuggling with my kiddos when they are sick regardless of the potential danger to my health because being a parent comes first. When it comes to going other places or interacting with others, those things have to l take a back seat.
And so, we keep plodding forward, taking each decision as it comes, looking at all the different perspectives, and doing our best to utilize objective factors when making decisions. Others outside of our family (my husband, my boys and I) may not understand or agree with our decisions, but we have to do what’s important for our family unit.
And I don’t feel bad about that, not at all.