Grading on a Curve

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Grading on a Curve

For the purpose of this story you are going to be a college student. Let’s say you were just told that you are going to be taking an exam. A pop quiz on life. You haven’t formally studied for it. You’re not sure what all is going to be covered. You’re not sure if it’s multiple choice or essay. You wonder how it will be graded. There is no getting out of taking it. You tell yourself to go in there and do the best you can.

You take the exam and feel like you did ok. The next day you go online to check your grade. You got 93 out of 100. You’re thrilled! Actually you’re pretty damn proud of yourself. That’s an “A” right? You walk around with your head in the clouds all week. You tell yourself you obviously know a lot of what there is to know about life, so you take that new found confidence and try some new things you’ve been nervous about trying. Skydiving, extreme knitting, jai alai. You feel good about where you’re at in life and even better about your recent successes.

The following week you’re talking to a classmate about the exam and you can tell she’s upset. She says she totally bombed the exam. You try to console her. You ask what her score was. She tells you that she got 94 out of 100. Your heart drops to the floor. Wait, what??! That’s one point more than you got. Why is she saying that she bombed? You don’t understand. She says, “Didn’t you see the note on the board? This exam was going to be graded on a curve and the goal on this exam was to score as low as possible.”

Jeezus. You don’t remember seeing that up on the board. You’re thinking about how good you felt last week when you thought you had aced the exam. You had faith in yourself and your abilities. You even tried jai alai!

Does the fact that your grade was actually a “F” and not an“A” as you initially thought change the fact that you spent all of last week having confidence and faith in yourself? No, it doesn’t. You believed in yourself and you made things happen. Your grade on the exam does not change that.

You start thinking more about it and you realize that you can’t be the only one who did so badly on the exam. It was being graded on a curve so maybe it isn’t as bad as you thought. The next time you’re in class you check the grade sheet posted in the classroom. You compare your score to a few of your friends, and then to random students who happen to fall next to your name alphabetically. You find out that a good portion of the class did a lot better than you. You feel even worse.

For argument’s sake let’s say your grade, or even this class didn’t really count towards your GPA. If you hadn’t talked to your classmate and hadn’t paid close attention to that particular exam in relation to your grade, you would still be walking around with that confidence.

The absolute worst thing you can do when you’re diagnosed with cancer is to start comparing your “grade” to someone else’s. It’s not good for your well being. Whether your are first in your social circle to get cancer or the 23rd, you cannot judge your rate of success or failure on comparisons made to others in a situation similar to yours. No set of circumstances are ever identical. It is helpful toget an idea as far as what to expect, but it should stop there. You are setting yourself up for heartbreak and disappointment if you start comparing every step of the way to someone else on the cancer journey.

It’s kind of like being pregnant. Pregnancy is a process. There are steps and stages that have to occur. But every pregnant woman does not end up with the exact same baby. It isn’t possible. There are too many factors added in that affect the outcome. Cancer is the same way. The cancer experience is different for everyone, even if we are stopping at all the same stops.

There are four stages to breast cancer. They have been studied, identified and defined. There have to be a thousand different things that contribute to your personal cancer experience. I’d love to be able to pick and choose what applies to me so that I could customize my cancer experience. I wish I could be that textbook example of what is supposed to happen when you do this specific treatment. I think it’s pretty obvious I’m not.

It would also be great if I knew that I did steps A,B, and C I would be 100% guaranteed result D. Obviously that’s not the case. I could take the exact same steps as Jan from Kenosha did when she was diagnosed with breast cancer but chances are I will not end up with the exact same results she did. Actually odds are pretty high that I won’t.

It’s scary to have something so major feel like a total crapshoot. You are constantly searching for positive things to cling to while you are swimming in a sea of negative things. It’s tough.

I read a lot of stories and I have talked to a lot of people about their experiences with cancer. I have noticed one constant when talking to people that I would deem successful in battling their cancer: positivity. Every single one of those people strongly believe they will beat cancer.I don’t mean that they are in denial about their situation, they just believe with everything they’ve got that they will prevail.

As horrible it is to say, I don’t think you can really make yourself become this type of positive person. You either is or you ain’t. I hope I am wrong on that but for now that is the way I feel about it. It’s almost like there is a microchip implanted in you that makes you process your situation in that manner.

When I think back to hearing the cancer diagnosis out of my oncologist’s mouth there is no better way to explain what I felt in that moment other than to say that a switch was flipped. I engaged the auto-fight program. It wasn’t a conscious thought, it just was. There was no waffling. There was no debate. There was not one iota of doubt in my body that I was going to be alive for many years.

I try to hold on to that. Every day there are things going on that try to kill that drive in me. That is why I am writing this. I am telling myself that I cannot compare my success to others. I need to focus on my own particular world and ignore the peripheral. It’s hard for me to do that. I am not good at it.

I just have to remember that this is not a test. I am going to struggle and that is ok, as long as I am getting up for class and participating.


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