When .0055% Matters
Within the past six months, I moved all of my money from a big banking institution (Capital One) to a small, virtual bank (Perkstreet). Although I was originally enrolled in Capital One’s debit card rewards program, the return was smaller than 1%. Perkstreet’s program offers 1-5% more cash back, without having to navigate a land mine of fees, so the switch seemed like a no brainer.
I didn’t switch accounts to make me rich. Anyone knows that receiving 1-5% cash back on purchases isn’t investment banking, but it makes me feel good to know that I’ll get back more of what I would be spending anyway. When we do the math, the bottom end, or 1%, isn’t much at all. We’re looking at a one cent return for every dollar. To many, this transition isn’t worth the trouble of not being able to walk into a physical bank and deposit a check or make a cash withdrawal. For those people, 1-5% is a tradeoff for convenience.
So what if, all things being equal, Perkstreet would have offered .0055% more cash back on debit card purchases? Would the transition to a virtual bank have been worth it? To me, no. That’s such a small percentage and the tradeoff of updating every account, making deposits through the mail, and transitioning to a newer banking concept would’t have made the hassle worthwhile.
In the cancer world, however, .0055% might as well be 55%. At least, in your head. I recently received the results of my latest PCR test – the percentage of abnormal chromosomal blueprints to normal chromosomes in the bone marrow, the “factory” that harbors blood cell production. In MD Anderson’s lab, the result showed 0.09% (nine hundredths of one percent – to make me feel better) of the abnormal CML blueprint (or Philadelphia chromosome) in 100% of the cells tested. The international standard – there is no universal protocol for PCR testing – shows the same percentage to be 0.03%, which is the result I prefer. My new motto: Go International or go home.
Three months ago, my PCR result was .07% (or 0.0245% on the IS). It doesn’t take a genius (I wish it literally did take a genius) to see that the results aren’t as good as they were three months ago. However, it’s important to remember that these results are really subjective. They all depend on the sample that they’re testing. In September, we looked at a different sample than we did in December, which was drawn from a different location in the hip. There was going to be a slight dissimilarity anyway. Therefore, a 0.02% (or 0.0055% on IS) differential isn’t particularly alarming. Cognitively, this is all that matters.
But when you live with cancer for years, when you’re limited in the type of job you pursue (for insurance reasons), when you struggle to finish school, percentages like these fall under the microscope. They become annoying markers that constantly remind you that you’re really not in control, that you don’t have the freedom others have to pursue careless agendas.
If an opportunity to take a trip around the world presented itself, the first questions I’d have to answer are: what will I do about insurance, how will I afford my medication, where will I see an oncologist, how much will that cost me out of pocket, what will I do when I return? My likely response would be, “no, I’m sorry, I can’t”. All because of a couple of hundredths of a percent.
Many times I feel stuck, job-locked, in a room with too few miniature doors. I have some flexibility, but not much at all. As you can imagine, anybody limited by this kind of room gets a little stir crazy. And often, I feel like my only hope is on the other side of that elusive degree.
I don’t want to make this blog about oncologic claustrophobia, however. I enjoy school and all that I’m learning. I just wanted to share my latest results and write a little about the effects such tiny percentage points have on people who’ve been branded with a scarlet C. Below, I’ve posted the test dates, the percentage of leukemia cells (in relation to normal cells found in the marrow), and the results of a chromosomal analysis (a detailed isolation of 20 cells which show a present or absent Philadelphia chromosome). I’m truly grateful this medicine has worked for me so far:
1/17/12 – 75.12% – 20/20
3/22/12 – 100% – 20/20
6/18/12 – 0.52% – N/A
9/17/12 – 0.07% (0.0245%)- 0/20
12/17/12 – 0.09% (0.03%) – 0/20