Statistics are stupid. Seriously, what do statistics even mean if you are the unlucky sucker in the minority?
Example: When I had my mammogram at 35 years old last year, here is what the radiologist said: “I see something, but it is probably nothing. I am going to say that there is an 80% chance it is a benign cyst or scar tissue of some kind. 20% chance it is DCIS (pre-cancerous cells).” Now I am no math wizard, but 80+20=100. That left a 0% chance that I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma… which I ended up having.
A few days ago I received my hospital system’s monthly magazine. The lead article was about breast cancer. Accompanying it was this little diagram:
Let’s talk for a moment about how angry this made me.
- I was 35 at diagnosis
- I got my period at age 12
- I do not carry any of the known genes for familial breast cancer
- I had my first child at 28
- I drink about 1-2 drinks a month, if that
- I have always been between a low-healthy BMI
- I have regularly exercised my entire life
WTF MAGAZINE ARTICLE?!!!!!!!
If I hadn’t discovered my cancer because I was randomly lactating (which ultimately had no correlation to my cancer- was just a VERY lucky coincidence) and read this diagram, I would think, ‘Well, phew! I am basically at a zero risk for breast cancer. Case closed on that one.’
I know that, in order to help the greatest amount of people, it makes the most sense to lay out the largest general risk groups and factors, but what about the rest of us?
I don’t have an answer for this problem, but in my mind, there is no excuse for letting anyone think they aren’t at risk. For anything.
Now, I realize we can’t live our lives wondering if we have every disease, but we also can’t tell people that they needn’t worry because they fall outside of the statistics. If I took the advice of the above chart, I would probably be dead in 4-5 years.
It is frightening to think that research and straight-out numbers don’t matter, but if you are in the 2% that has no identifiable risk of breast cancer, and then you get breast cancer, what service has been done for you? Are us 2%-ers just throwaways? Are we just taking one for the collective team? Are we the statistical placebo?
While you ponder this terrifying thought, let me leave you with another example of bullshit numbers. I am about to throw my beloved sister under the bus.
My sister is 8.5 years older than me. Since cancer, we have been asked more than once which one of us is the older one. She has rich, long brown hair and a youthful appearance. I, on the other hand, have short grey hair and a face that looks like it has seen some shit.
You would think based on math and science, it would be obvious who was almost a decade older. Yeah, not so much anymore. Cancer (and 3 kids and 2 dogs) has repealed any leverage I had to display as the much younger sister.
Numbers are finite. What ruins their simplicity is the translation of those numbers. Who cares if I have a 0% risk of breast cancer? Cancer sure as hell doesn’t! Who cares if I am 8 years younger than my sister? Strangers sure don’t!
Let’s look deeper folks (not too deep though, I need a facial). Assessing your risk is an excellent place to start, but don’t stop there. Listen to your gut. Listen to your heart. And hope that karma doesn’t have it coming for you (seriously, what DID I do to you karma?!?!).