Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chemo Keno--You Do the Math

Cancer is confusing. Did you know that? Okay, fair enough, you probably never thought about it, but trust me you're confused. I know this because of the questions I get asked and the assumptions that get made. So in my public service mode (although, it will still be all about me), let me explain a few of the statistics that we all seem to know, but don't really understand.

1 in 8 women get diagnosed with breast cancer. You've probably heard that statistic, right? I had. But it's a little misleading. It would be more accurate to say 1 in 8 women who live to the age of 80 will get breast cancer. According to the statistics for how many women will get breast cancer by age group are as follows:

Age 30 to 39: 1 in 233
Age 40 to 49: 1 in 69
Age 50 to 59: 1 in 38
Age 60 to 69: 1 in 27

Okay, first...there are 68 of you out there who owe me a big thanks for taking one for the team!! Second, I don't know why they don't give the statistics for under 30 or over 69, but they don't. And yeah, I will admit that I do sometimes find myself looking at a woman older than me and thinking, hey, she got to be a lot older than me without getting breast cancer. Good for her! I used to do that about my divorce too--eventually it ceased to amaze me that people could stay married longer than me (seriously, that couple??). I remain amazed that people can stay married. I suppose then that eventually I will not be amazed that people older than me do not have cancer. I will remain amazed that people live long healthy lives with no cancer (seriously, that asshole?).

Next strange statistical phenomenon is the chemo itself. So basically, all signs indicate the great and good Dr. Karam removed all cancer from my being. But I'm going through chemo to give me the best chance that it isn't hiding somewhere in my body that modern major medical can't detect yet. Because if it is, it's what they call "metastasized" (spread to somewhere else) and then we're not talking cure, we're talking "how long do I have, doc?" The way it was initially explained is that without the chemo there is a 30% chance of recurrence (i.e. a 30% chance it's metastasized and by the time we find it the gig is up). With the chemo, that drops to 15%. But here's the weird and somewhat misleading part about that. As Dr. Glaspy at UCLA explained it, what they know is that if they took 100 women exactly like me (yeah, um, medically)--same cancer, same statistics, same tumor size, same test scores, etc. gathered us together and said "no chemo for you" they know 30 of us would end up with a terminal metastasized cancer. But 70 would have been just fine. If they take those same 100 women and give them all chemo, they know that 15 of them will still develop terminal metastasized cancer, but 85 will be just fine. The 15 may live longer, but they'll still be "uncurable." So of course I'm doing the chemo and improving my odds, but there's a way in which the die is cast. I could be one of the 70 who don't need the chemo at all. I could be one of the 15 who are going to be dealing with metastasized cancer anyway. Or I could be one of the 15 who would be dealing with metastasized cancer but luckily got the chemo and voila, I am fine. Only my body knows for sure and it ain't talking (cancer cells are notoriously quiet). So yeah, I'm sort of hoping this chemo is just a giant waste of my time after all, because of course Dr. Good Karma got all the cancer out already!! You know how in keno you can "win" by not having picked a single number that gets drawn? Yeah, like that. I want to be that loser/winner. (I warned you this was confusing).

Also confusing are the "common" vs "uncommon" side effects of chemo. Naturally, the few I've had have fallen on the "uncommon" side. But, next week will be the next big test because days 10 to 14 are when my white blood cell counts plummet, I will be fatigued and the hair loss should begin (and end..head shaving party is scheduled for Friday the 13th..of course it is!). So I will leave the discussion of side effects until next week. Should be a riot.

Final statistics for you. This blog is big in Beirut. Okay, not big, but one person in Beirut actually checked out the blog. I'm read in 7 countries now. And in the US, 23 states. Seriously. Okay, sure, they may have stumbled on the blog by mistake, accident, or horrific experience, but still. I discovered this lovely thing called Google analytics a few weeks back (Thanks faithful follower Sara Henry!). It tracks blog traffic and tells you where the blog hits are coming from by country, state and city (no, not address or person; stop being paranoid). Since February 17th, there have been 1,013 blog visits from 7 countries. US, Canada, England, France, Germany, Indonesia and...yep, Lebanon. A special shout out to my faithful follower in London. Somebody (or maybe somebodies) logs on every day. Which is more than I can say about...oh, my college roommate and friend of more than 25 years (no hits from the entire state of Virginia... what's up with that?).

So humor me. If you know anyone in the middle of the country (yes, the US) ask them to check out the blog and help me collect states. And by all means if you know folks in other countries (the more obscure the better) please direct them to the blog. I have so little to amuse myself with these days (living in my cancer bubble), I just want to light up that whole Google map! I can be like that old internet hoax with the dying little boy collecting greeting cards...only you know, totally different, and somehow more pathetic.


  1. Hey! I found another crazy!!!!!

    This has nothing to do with your blog here, but I was just so excited that there is yet another person out there with a complaint who really needs to join a glee club or something. I haven't read this blog entry yet, but I have my coffee and am now posting this comment...moving on to reading your latest. Have a great day!

  2. Wow. That was a lot if math at 7:15 AM and just one cup of coffee. I'll have to revisit that and see where I stand in this "crap" shoot. I am one of those people who look at others as well and wonder how they managed to get lucky. Like people who smoke for 80 years and not so much as have a cough. But, you know my moms story at age 53... ???? How does THAT happen? Wouldn't it be easier if we as intelligent beings just walked around blissfully unaware of numbers, statistics and rates?

  3. Glad you are enjoying Google Analytics! (What I find fascinating are the search terms people use to end up on my site - a lot of searches for Russian maid and dogs and pineapple, for instance.)

    Realize that people who read your blog through a reader such as Google Reader (which I do unless I'm commenting) will show up as a "bounce," with 0 seconds on the site - so don't assume that these folks aren't reading!

    PS - Thanks for this entry today - it reminded me to call and schedule my annual mammogram!

  4. I am contacting Japan, Bali & England today. Because, you know...I'm a kiss ass. This will be interesting to see what happens. Keep us posted please!

  5. Laura--yeah, I don't know why that blogger had a problem with "Feel Your Boobies" but at least she wasn't viscous about it. Seems a little random on her part, but I liked that the Feel Your Boobies founder responded--and did so respectfully. Oh, and sorry about all the early morning math. I do think about your mom dying at age 53 out of the blue like that and so unfairly all the time. It's one of the things that make me think I really can't complain about this at all.

    Sara--you will be turning me into a Google obsessed freak! Now I have to go find out the search terms being used! Although, maybe I don't want to. I'm sure I'll find "self absorbed cancer patient" or some such! But thanks for the tip.

    Nancy--it's such a fine line between kiss-ass and genuinely nice person who cares. But don't worry, you are safely on the correct side. See what you can do about Michigan...the entire state seems to be ignoring me. I think it was my ex-husband post a few weeks back. Those Michiganders rally together against we Californians. It's a secret conspiracy, I just know it.

    Thanks guys!

  6. Teresa,

    Brian & I have decided you should turn this into a book. We read it daily and find it incredibly funny while being informative at the same time. Hope you are doing as well as can be expected. BTW--according to one of my good friends who spent over a year in chemo, the metallic taste disappears just in time for the next treatment.


  7. I checked the blog when I was in Florida this week. Next week I am going to be in Illinois, yes all hot spots and I have a trip to Michigan scheduled for April. We will get those states lit up!

  8. Do I get credit for getting you Indonesia? Tell Louise to bite that!!

  9. Yes, Stacey, you get credit for Indonesia. Although your best friend Nancy also has a friend in Bali, so she could match you. But, um....why would Louise bite Indonesia?


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