Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reading between the lines

This blog post made me think about the importance of reading between the lines. Dennis Hopper died from a supposed slow growing cancer. Hmmm... If its slow growing, why did he die so young? Prostate cancer is one of those 'good cancers'. I had two so-called 'good cancers' (and if you say they are good to my face I might smack you silly) - you know the kind that you are told 'if you had to get any cancer that's a good one'. Hah! There is no such thing as a good cancer. (I will say my now retired dentist did make such a comment to me about my breast cancer and we did laugh about it - because he said it in the right way and he also had cancer. People with cancer get special dispensation to say cancer things to other people with cancer as they really understand.)

When you are given those lovely words 'you have cancer', 'its malignant', 'its positive' or some such life changing phrase, among the many things you probably do is go look at all the numbers as well as get a lot of medical advice. The numbers may tell you one thing and the different medical advice, some different things. This is where you need to read between the lines and figure out where the truth really lies.

The stark reality of the numbers doesn't tell you the whole story. They give you the five year survival rate by stage and tell you how to stage your cancer - or what stage you want to be in. But if it says 80% are alive at the end of five years, 20% are not. But they don't give you that number, you need to do the math in your head. Somehow by only putting the positive number its supposed to minimize the impact. Even when the five year survival rate is less than 10%.

Then your medical advisers don't tell you the whole story either. They can project what they expect. They can provide you with a plan of care.They can tell you in nicely couched phrases their opinions of your prognosis. But are they going to come out and say something like 'you have an 80% chance of being here in five years' or 'you have a 20% chance of not being here in five years'? No. Never. I flat out asked my oncologist about my chances at one point. He did give me a fairly clear answer that was relatively positive. It took me a while to get up enough guts to ask that one.

But as a patient or bystander, you have to compile all the information together in your head and start deciphering the pile and figure out where you are, where you want to be, and how you are going to get there. You can't just go by the numbers - the 'good cancers' kill people each year as well as the 'bad cancers'. This means that while some people don't make it when they have a relatively good prognosis, other people with a bad prognosis live for years or even decades.

All the medical advice and statistics are based on averages. Averages are the same thing that give us baseball pitchers with a low ERA who walk three batters in a row or soccer goalies who miss that single (but very critical) goal in the season. They give us expectancies based on past experience. But they don't always predict the future.


Anonymous said...

its hard to fight against cancer...
but will is the tool to success


funkyjoy77 said...

My mom died of cancer and I started a blog as she left a diary of stuff she went through...I find it inspiring that people can share this emotional time with others..well done...

if you have a couple of minutes you could have a read of mine!