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Saturday, October 31, 2015

SEP Field

Somebody Else's Problem field, or SEP, is a cheap, easy, and staggeringly useful way of safely protecting something from unwanted eyes. It can run almost indefinitely on a torch (flashlight)/9 volt battery, and is able to do so because it utilises a person's natural tendency to ignore things they don't easily accept, like, for example, aliens at a cricket match. Any object around which an S.E.P. is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else's. An object becomes not so much invisible as unnoticed.

A perfect example of this would be a ship covered in an SEP field at a cricket match. A starship taking the appearance of a large pink elephant is ideal, because you can see it, but because it is so inconceivable, your mind can't accept it. Therefore it can't exist, thus ignoring it comes naturally.

A S.E.P. can work in much the same way in dangerous or uninhabitable environments. Any problem which may present itself to a person inside an S.E.P. (such as not being able to breathe, due to a lack of atmosphere) will become Somebody Else's.

An S.E.P. can be seen if caught by surprise, or out of the corner of one's eye.
-- Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything

When a cancer diagnosis comes one of the first things to go is the SEP field hiding the fact that you don't control much of anything. Maybe it's a Western thing, or an American thing, I don't know, but we pretend like we control the outcome of things. I mean the big, important things, like Life. But we don't.

One of the very few assurances of Life on Earth is that one day it will end for all of us. I don't know what your existential outlook is, and I'm not going to address the subject here, anyhow. We exist on the Earth as biological entities, and it's for sure that 1 out of every 1 of us will die.

I don't write this to try to shock you, or to be "dark" or morbid. I just see now that I spent a lot of time in Life ignoring this fact of Life. Surely it was pointed out to me at some point, and I knew it was true, but only from afar. It's probably some evolutionary thing, since (we think) we're the only beings that consciously contemplate Death. In case you missed what I meant, I mean consciously contemplate, not the innate sense that all things biological have towards preserving self. That is, we know it's coming, we understand what's going on at funerals, etc... It's a dark, upsetting, scary thing, and (understandably) no-one wants to think about it, or when it will happen.

So most of the time we go on our way w/o thinking about it, I still try to. Cancer, among other things, can jolt you away from this. So what are we really avoiding? We're assuming that's it's not coming today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or until we've lived to our full life expectancy, as computed by the most liberal and understanding actuaries. I think that even if we get that far, the dream might fade, but it's still there.

In large part I think we're avoiding the fact that we don't control the outcome of much. Sure, we can hover over our kids, make sure they get a soccer scholarship starting from when they're 2. Or otherwise act like we're the real deal in carpool line. But that doesn't fall under what I'm talking about. We avoid the fact that there's a non-zero chance that we'll cease to walk the Earth on any given day.

One thing that illustrated the point to me clearly was the following. When discussing with someone the fact that Myeloma is not curable, and I was struggling to accept this because it meant knowing it was coming back and would almost certainly be the end of me. It felt like it was stalking me, like some apparition, the Grim Reaper himself with a scythe and everything. "Well," she said politely and cautiously, "no-one knows what's going to happen tomorrow. You could get hit by a car."

It's true: I could (still) get hit by a car, or bus, or asteroid. Getting into a fatal car accident is probably much more likely than getting Multiple Myeloma in a lifetime. But here's the difference as far as I'm concerned. These other things are theoretical risks: statistics or tables created by some dumb-ass actuarials. Myelmoa does have a risk profile for recurrence, but eventually it is for sure. So, yes, I could get hit by a car, or get a different cancer, or, ... whatever. Maybe. These things, I think, are somehow easily relegated to the back of our minds as not really possible. I mean, yes, they happen, but of course they always happen to somebody else. It's somebody else's problem.

Seriously consider it this way. Rather than, "you could get hit by a car", suppose someone who knows such things said instead, "you will get hit by a car within 5 years." That changes things, doesn't it? I mean I assumed I was going to live to at least 87.5 years old!? I did all the back-of-the-envelope figuring, took into account my parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents; optimistically figuring in a few bonus years due to good behavior and the rounding down of figures actuaries round up (the bastards!) and convenient memory loss when it comes to not exercising, over-eating, and too much drinking. Who the hell moved the goal posts in? That. Is the Upsetting Thing.

I struggle with those real risks, and those theoretical ones, just like anybody else. Seems like no matter how old you are (I'm 48), it seems like it's not old enough to think about these things. I do feel lucky in some sense; some people don't make it to 48.

I hope you have stayed with me this far. The real point of this post was to call attention to some things that I wish I had done (or done more of) prior to last year. Hopefully, you will seriously consider them, and take some action, and not delay long. We can't control everything, but we can control some things. These are not somebody else's problems.

  • Review Life Insurance. Review your coverage amount and terms. Make sure you have something, especially if you have a family, to provide for them. Re-up, renew, increase. How much do you need? You can cover your end of life expenses, and provide for your family for years. How much depends on your situation, so check. Once you get cancer (or other things), obtaining life insurance can be prohibitively expensive if not impossible. Can your policy be converted to whole-life later?

  • Review beneficiaries. Do you have retirement savings or other accounts with beneficiaries? Make sure the information is up to date. You can name your spouse, or a trust set up in you will, etc. Review all your accounts and make sure it's all up to date with your wishes.

  • Get a will, or review it. My wife and I set up wills not long after our first child was born. We wanted to make sure our kids' financial needs were met (via a trust), and that their custody was specified in the event we both died. Your situation might be simpler, or more complicated. I was not comfortable doing it back then (the SEP field was flickering, you know, I mean, there was nothing to worry about, right?), but I'm glad we did. If you have a will, how long has it been since you reviewed it? Maybe it's time.

  • Review medical power-of-attorney, living will. If you have specific desires for end of life, prolonged care, what to do if you become a vegetable, etc., review these, and get them in place. I can tell you hospitals ask for these documents when you check in, so they're taken seriously. Think about it now, before you need it, and get the documents drawn up. Make sure your spouse (or whomever) knows your wishes.

These are just a few things, and frankly they're man-made things; but they're important. As always, its easy (even for me) to relax back into the day-to-day and worry about it later. Sooner or later, though, it's later. I mean, it's on you before you know it. You could get hit by a car tomorrow.


  1. Dana, your blog is a real gift. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. xo

  2. […] hard because you have to confront issues you don’t want to confront. It’s a cruel reality, but you feel urgency to plan on what to do when you’re no longer […]