Cancer is Crap: Tell HER-2 Stick Those Stats Where the Sun Don’t Shine



October 15 2009, 12:04 pm

You know what I usually do when something really upsets me? I usually sit down on my kitchen floor and cry. It’s not the most comfortable place to cry (that would be my husband’s arms) but I often end up there. I seem to have a need to get low to the ground. Get terra firma (or kitchen tile) under me so I don’t wobble and break like a teacup.

I tell you this because I recently spent some time on my kitchen floor, right after reading this story in the Ottawa Citizen, which talks about a new program for young women with HER-2 positive breast cancer. “Sounds great,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll get involved,” thought I.

And there, smack in the middle of the article was this line:

“…it’s easy to see why HER2 is so feared: In a study last year at the University of Texas, women with early stage HER2-positive tumours were reported to have a 23-per-cent survival rate, compared with 90 per cent for breast cancer patients who do not test positive for the protein.”

Plop – straight to the floor. Tears (big fat ones) and terror (also robust) ensued. How dare they?  How dare they just hit me with that 23% when I really and truly believed that I would beat this?  Believed it to the point that I publicly chastised anyone who didn’t believe it.  I more than believed it – I was full of conviction; I knew I would beat it.  And then, one little line in one little article sends me to the kitchen floor, my conviction shattered and my mascara all over the place??

Yes, actually. That’s all it took. Suddenly I was aware that my steely resolve and hell-bent determination are a little more fragile than I realized.

Slowly, the fatso tears became little spatters and then stopped altogether and reason – or my version of it — took over. I concluded that deeming the University of Texas researchers a bunch of hacks was appropriate. As was feeling very unkindly toward the reporter who included that line in her story. Thanks a lot, stupid no-cancer-having lady, for your blithe reference to these death stats concerning something I have to live with every day. Why don’t you go back to writing about five great picnic spots in our nation’s capital and leave me to my shattered optimism.

There – being nasty made me feel better already. Next I went into action mode, pouring myself a nice big glass of wine and Googling all the statistics for various kinds of death, thinking surely it’s harder to survive car accidents and parasitic infections?

That’s when I found a story about that crocodile hunter guy. Yes, the crocodile hunter guy. I know this sounds completely irrelevant, but stay with me: There he was, Steve Irwin, cheerfully bounding around swamps and wrestling dangerous reptiles one day – then suddenly pierced through the ticker by a normally gentle sea creature the next.  He didn’t know what was going to happen to him when he went into the reef that day.  He probably had fewer reservations about swimming with those big portobello mushrooms than he would ever have had about hanging out in croc-infested swamps — and you can bet the stats for crocodile deaths are much higher than for death-by-sting-ray.

Which is when I realized that statistics are for morons. In reality, you can never know when or how you’ll die, you can only choose how you’ll live. Some people wrestle reptiles, some wrestle cancer.  In the end, the obvious danger may not be the thing that strikes you down.  After all, that’s why I still wear a bicycle helmet.

So, thank-you dearly departed crocodile guy – I bet you never thought you’d come to the rescue of a Canadian girl with HER-2 positive cancer. Life is full of surprises, and stupid statistics abound, but I am going to live. This cancer is not going to win. I knew I cracked open the Australian wine for a reason.

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