Why is seven a lucky number? There are seven days in a week, and while that’s got a long history it’s also pretty arbitrary—if we were smart we’d always have December 31st on Thursday so we’d have the weekend to recover. There are seven continents although that’s also pretty arbitrary because Europe and Asia are connected and so are North and South America, and the central part is pretty important too. There are supposedly seven stars in the Pleiades but look through a telescope and you’ll see a lot more than that. Supposedly there are seven colors in the rainbow but when was the last time you looked at a rainbow and really saw indigo? There’s the old dad joke that six is afraid of seven because seven eight nine, but that’s the kind of joke that’s only lucky if people are still willing to talk to you after you tell it. Maybe it’s something in the number itself. Seven is the largest single digit prime number, and it’s an odd number so you can separate it into two even groups of three with one standing in the middle alone, and it’s there saying, “Hey, do you know why six is afraid of seven?”
In games with two six-sided dice there’s a special significance to seven because it’s the number that has the most combinations so it’s the number you’re most likely to roll.
It’s also been seven years since I finished chemotherapy, which has me thinking a lot about how much happened in those first seven days.
My first day I went in not knowing what chemotherapy even meant, which sounds stupid now, but all I’d heard about chemotherapy was the side-effects: hair loss, weight loss, sickness. What would the procedure be? And I was afraid to ask which may sound even more stupid but I figured I’d find out soon enough, and it’s not as though I could negotiate or improvise something other than what was in the script.
With that first day, a Monday, I learned that chemo mostly involved sitting around letting IV bags of fluid drip into my veins. I expected it to be like a root canal but it was more like study hall in school, although less painful because I didn’t have a test on economics afterward.
Later in the week I’d develop severe swelling in my right leg from all the extra fluid, I was so exhausted from stress I fell asleep during an MRI, I got lost going to the bathroom and a nurse had to show me the way back to my room.
I had bouts of nausea and wondered if that was as bad as it would get, then it got worse: a guy with a guitar came around and sang “Edelweiss” to me.
I think it was during that first week that I had the minor surgery to have a chest port installed so I wouldn’t end up with arms like a heroin addict’s. I fell asleep during that too and woke up singing “Comfortably Numb” which everyone in the operating room found hilarious.
I wondered if I’d see any other side effects and, in fact, the following Monday when I went in I leaned my head back on a pillow while a nurse gave me a single shot. When I lifted my head up there was a clump of my hair on the pillow. The rest of it would fall out later.
Those first seven days didn’t so much establish a routine as get the worst of what I’d go through out of the way with things gradually getting better from there.
Six times now I’ve celebrated successfully finishing chemotherapy. It wasn’t the end of my cancer treatment—there was still recovery and surgeries that followed, but, as the one who had cancer, I get to choose, and I’ve arbitrarily picked this date as the one to celebrate. And six times it’s not really been something I’ve celebrated; it hasn’t been fun reflecting on what cancer meant to me, what it did to me. I’m glad to be here but six times I thought I’d be happier to be here if my body hadn’t turned on me, if I hadn’t lost so much to a cluster of runaway cluster of cells.
This time feels different. It’s lighter. It’s better. This time I just feel glad. I don’t know what comes next, but I’m ready to roll the dice.