Cancer Math for the Curious

 “Tell me the truth,” I ask, “how do you feel about people sending you business?”

“Oh I still want it, now more than ever.” My colleague admits she’s afraid, very afraid of having low/disappearing numbers of transactions.

I caution her, “Tell people you know in person or over the phone. Just like you told me – but don’t send an email.” From experience I say, email is problematic. People don’t read emails effectively. People skim. If the casual reader sees the word “Cancer,”  all sorts of unabated nonsense ensues.

Such as?

I ought to pass over Cancer patient, give her a chance to rest.

Cancer patient might not be able to do a good job for me.

Maybe Cancer patient is not coming back to work, or dying.

And so on. These are not helpful assumptions. Don’t fire a hard-working professional with Cancer before having a conversation with her. We don’t appreciate the discrimination. Don’t wuss out because you’re uncomfortable with my Cancer. I need my job, my income and quite frankly my sense of being a contributing member of society.  If we must, we’ll hire out for assistance. But please give us the opportunity to work while we can because whether we live or die, life has expenses. In fact, with the onset of Cancer most of us find our expenses go up not down.

Mortality Rates

If a certain treatment increases my survival rate by 50% taking the treatment sounds like a no-brainer. Sounds like. If only the math were abstract, and not the lives of actual people. What if only 50 out of 100 are expected to survive an additional five years. If treatment boosts survival by 50%, by the end of five years a total of 75 women are still alive, not just 50. Twenty-five additional survivors. The treatment does sound like a good idea.

But what if the survival rate is already at 95%? The same treatment with its promised boost of 50% creates only two additional survivors. The actual math is 2.5, but there is no such thing as half a woman. Well, why not take the estrogen blocker anyway, since 2.5% is 2.5% more likelihood of survival? Why not? I have to weigh the gain by the losses. Side effects include and are not limited to: blot clots, heart disease, pelvic cancers, osteoporosis. Fifty percent of women who opt for the estrogen blockers quit taking them before 5 years is up, citing joint and muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, and general low quality of life.

I swear I don’t make this shit up.

There’s more. What if chemotherapy teamed with estrogen blockers increases survival rate to over 99%? Would you do it? The toxic chemo comes with costs of its own, including destroying the immunity system of person like me. A person, not a number. Unlike the estrogen blockers with chemo, many of the side effects are forever side effects. All of which I say to remind you dear readers that if your friend/colleague/relative has both financial support and emotional support these therapies are life saving. The choice is not nearly as clear for people who do not have the option to avoid the public and/or quit working.

The choice to take radiation, estrogen blockers, or chemotherapy are highly personal. In my research I mostly found bloggers and chat group comments by people who chose treatment, or chose to end treatment prematurely.  People who eschew treatment are hesitant to blog or discuss. They don’t want to be responsible for my choice or yours. The stakes are too high.

I blogged on the lady who told me flat out I would die if I didn’t take the $2,000 a month marijuana oil treatment she advocates. She also told me I would die if took chemo. At that point in my life no one, not any of my physicians had mentioned chemo. She took it upon herself to frighten me. I took affront to her diagnosing me without seeing any of my tests, exams or X-rays. She didn’t even know (or ask) what kind of breast Cancer I had. She calls herself a “healer.” My friend Harvey might call her a snake oil salesman. (Marijuana oil, Harvey! Not snake oil.)

If only there was a way to know if I’m in the group that has already been cured by surgery alone. There’s a chance, you know, that I’m doing this radiation for no purpose. There’s also a chance radiation is the very thing that is saving my life. If I am alive five years from now I’ll only know one or the other preserved me, I’ll never know which one. If I am dead within five years I’ll know neither one of them was enough.

It’s not like I’m not doing other things. According to the internet everything cures Cancer: prayer, headstands, diet, vitamins, herbs, marijuana oil, baking soda, positive thinking, mantra, sound waves, hypnosis, horse urine, just to name a few. I mean it is seriously a wonder why anyone gets Cancer at all. Some people say stress, some people say genetics. I say “What they don’t know could fill a book. . . “

In the days before my illness I remember thinking about my friend John’s treatment decisions. I thought, “Had that been me, I wouldn’t have opted for sure dire remedies to earn only a few months more time.” I kept my thoughts to myself. You should too. They weren’t my months to buy. John was quite settled with his decisions. By his own admission, yes, the end of his life sucked. Totally. But John wanted his months, suck factor and all. Those were his months to buy. A mutual friend reminds me, John actually won 24 extra months, not just the promised four.

Someone asks me a reasonable question, “But can’t you just wait a few years and then try the estrogen blocker?” Unfortunately the answer is “no.” Not only can I not wait, the more I read the more I see that I don’t even get brownie points for a partial attempt. The stuff works best in ten year stints. Taking it for less than that doesn’t help much. Which brings me to, “questions.” Have you got ’em? If you have a question for your Cancer friend, you might consider asking their designated point person. The person in the caregiving role.

Despite the old adage most people would rather you talk to them rather than about them, sometimes the Cancer patient is too grumpy to explain all the math to you. In which case the designated buffer can do justice to all your curiosity. Thank you again everyone, everyone who has generously donated, supported, posted or reposted my GoFundMe. I am much obliged.

Now y’all play nice!

Sat Nam



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