Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fear and Statistics

My Oncologist at Cedar's in our first meeting offered me to review my statistical chances based upon a public computer program that is part of the Sloane-Kettering website.  I blindly said yes and he put some numbers in based upon the tumor type and size and the program spit out some percentages.  I didn't really hear the rest of what he said.  I wished I never agreed to go over that with him.  Why?  because the statistics don't (never) speak to the individual.  They apply by definition to groups.  Statistics are important to determine whether a therapy works or not, and what therapy to apply but as an empowered individual statistics must not dictate beliefs. 

Lance Armstrong writes this in his book about Statistics:
What are my chances?  It was a question I would repeat over and over.  But it was irrelevant, wasn't it?  It  didn't matter, because the medical odds don't take into account the unfathomable.  There is no proper way to estimate somebody's chances, and we shouldn't try, because we can never be entirely right and it deprives people of hope.  Hope that is the only antidote to fear. 
I wanted to live, but whether I would or not was a mystery, and in the midst of confronting that fact, even at that moment, I was beginning to sense that to stare into the heart of such a  fearful mystery wasn't  a bad thing. To be afraid is  a priceless education.  once you have been that scared, you know more about your frailty than most people, and I think that changes a man.  I was brought low, and there was nothing to take refuge in but the philosophical:  this disease would force me to ask more of myself as a person than I ever had before and to seek out a different ethic.
I can certainly relate.