What If? - Why Statistics Shouldn't Scare You!

One of the most routine pieces of information that the medical industry, for it is an industry, throws at us is a Statistic. Statistics are there to show you how likely you are to contract some disease, to have a boy or girl, to getting a divorce, or find a new job.  There seem to be so many studies that we now have a statistic for everything...including how many times you're likely to blink in a minute! How could we go on without that piece of data?

We have to be honest though; we like them. We quote them to others to deter them from some decision or action. If they favor us, we advertise them.

Statistical tables

Well, one thing I surely learned from taking Statistics in Grad School, is that if you manipulate data just right...you can come up with a number of statistics... and not all will agree.  In other words, much of data can be manipulated to show the statistic you are after.

And yet, without statistics we're loathe to trust information lest it merely be opinion.

Let's think about that for a minute.  I'm going to go out on a limb and ask... is there anything truly that is more than opinion?  To be tagged a trusted statistic, the number must be based on factual data... that may or may not hold up in time.

How much time is long enough? 5 years worth of data? 20 years? Up until such time as new data is discovered?

Some of you are going to gasp in horror, shake your heads in dismay, and remind me about all the theories we accept as truth since they are based on scientific FACTS! You know the proven, repeatable, unbiased, honest-to-goodness, theories.

Bar Graph

Hmmm... can you think of something we believed to be true for decades that was later dis-proven?  I mean besides the Earth being flat, and that the Sun rotates around the Earth.

How about:

There are 109 Elements in the Period Table New information: Since 1994, six new elements have been discovered.

or:

The first mammals evolved about 155 million years ago. New information – “The shrew-like animal would have run under the feet of dinosaurs at the start of the Jurassic period, nearly 195 million years ago … Hadrocodium wui pushes back by another 40 million years its first appearance in the fossil record.”.

Here are a couple of sites just for fun...

1. Medical Facts that Have Been Proven to be Wrong
2. What Scientific Laws or theories have been proven wrong?

All this is to say that as we add new information to our data, our statistics or theories have to change.  With me so far?

Ok, here's the "WHAT IF"...

Let's go back to the Medical Industry... that slow to move, slow to assimilate new information, give me 3 - 10 years of similar data before I can make a decision, industry.

  1. Medical statistics in the West are based on Western Medicine's view of valid data.  Yes?
  2. In the U.S. and even more so abroad, many, many people incorporate "alternate"  methods into their every day or healing regimen. Yes?
  3. When a patient visits a traditional medical practitioner, their condition is assessed from a "symptom" and "data I learned about that symptom" perspective. Yes?
  4. A patient is hardly ever asked what their eating habits, supplementation, attitudes and belief's are as part of the standard, one size fits all data sheet they fill out.  Yes?
  5. A diagnosis is based on those symptoms (I am trying to distinguish these from causes of illness) and on scientific data, clinical that is.  Yes?
  6. You are then given a statistic if relevant to your situation, and with Cancer patients, boy are we happy to quote statistics.  Yes?
  7. You leave programmed with the belief that you will fall in one of those statistical groups, and left to wonder which it will be... because you really have no control over that...it will depend on how your 'disease' responds to treatment. Yes?

Here's my belief and something you should think about seriously

To make things simple I'm going to choose two people to illustrate my theory. We're going to name them B and K.

B and K have recently had mammograms that show a small mass in one of their breasts. B and K are informed they should have biopsies.

B is conservative, has not done a lot of thinking about health trends or a lot of research about cancer treatment approaches.  She is a believer in Traditional medicine and trusts that her Oncologist has all the answers.

B opts for a needle biopsy, since she is assured they are safe.

K is progressive, she is a hiker, has acupuncture for benign symptoms and  is very interested in nutrition and Eastern medicine. She immediately scours the Internet for the latest news in Breast Cancer research.

B doesn't want a needle biopsy.  She can't believe it's 100% safe, since in her mind there is no way that pulling a needle filled with cancer cells isn't going to leave a few of those microscopic cells along the needle path. She opts for a lumpectomy.

They have the same type of cancer, and their Oncologist suggests the traditional Chemo drugs for that type, followed by a course of radiation. The statistics are shared with each of them... since they were both caught early there is a 78% chance that nothing will develop, and a 22% chance of recurrence. Chemo adds another 5-6% benefit.

For our example, they both choose to have Chemo.

They both meet with the resident Nutritionist who tells them about foods and supplements to avoid during treatment, and how to modify their diet for cancer prevention.  He gives each a handout about Chemo side effects and some suggestions to alleviate them (most are drugs to take).

K leaves feeling down, a little overwhelmed by the information and the changes she has to make.  Her husband is supportive and upbeat, and her sister is distressed, a little worried about her own fate now. K's home is comfortable, clean and in a suburban neighborhood. K has two children, 14 and 16, and a small dog. Her brother has left her a message on her answering machine encouraging her to talk to a Doctor he trusts before making a decision.

B leaves feeling anxious to get home so she can initiate a search for a Complimentary Therapy practice.  Her boyfriend sends a few emails to solicit info from friends.  They live in a two-story condo and have custody of his 12-year-old son. The house is a little messy, but furnished tastefully.  Flowers stand in a vase in the living room, and a parakeet in a large cage near the patio door. Two of B's friends are waiting for her when she arrives...each has brought a gift from the Farmer's market.  They cook lunch together while she tells them what her approach is going to be.

K and B go through the same treatment cycle.

I m not sure...

K

takes the suggested meds for side effects.  Eats well and tries to be positive. Her husband goes to most of the sessions with her, alternating with her concerned sister.  K suffers from fatigue, has a rather emotional reaction to her hair loss, and is cautiously optimistic.  She walks for 20 minutes most days and tries to act brave in front of her sister so as not to worry her.  Her kids are taking things well and help around the house.

No one suggests she have alternate types of care during the course of her treatment. She's not sure she trusts acupuncture, when a friend mentions it.

B

finds and consults with a Nutritional Oncologist. She immediately starts on a long list of supplements each specifically targeted to either support her immune system, help the Chemo be more effective by unmasking cancer cells, or counteract the side effects. She continues acupuncture to move the toxins out as quickly as possible and alleviate nausea, and joins her two friends in a Yoga class twice a week.

Her boyfriend sets up a rotating meal prep schedule with some of their friends, so that for the 4 days after Chemo they don't have to worry about cooking.  They give each cook an approved ingredient list. He makes sure B has plenty of uplifting books to read, is ready with an amusing story when he gets home, and the three watch funny movies after dinner and homework are done.

Pretty woman

B meditates, is determined to move through this process and into a healthier body, and goes out with the girls to shop for a crazy wig when her hair falls out.

Outcomes

A year and a half later, K has a recurrence almost in the exact same spot as her previous tumor. She opts for a mastectomy and new course of treatment. She mostly sticks with her diet, and takes a few standard vitamins.

B on the other hand, is an active volunteer in the Cancer Wellness Community 3 days a week after work. She has completely changed her lifestyle and eating habits and continues with a maintenance Supplement regimen per her Nutritional Oncologist.  Her friends, inspired by her, have cut out some of the bad foods they used to indulge in. She has one more scan in 6 months and will proclaimed Cancer-Free.

And What do the Statistics Say?

K and B's Oncologist, ignorant of all the ingredients that went into each woman's healing process, chalks one person up as benefiting from the XYZ Chemo combination, and one woman needing a second round with XQW treatment, and per statistics not as good a prediction for long-term cancer-free survival.

Where are the Stats that take into account the needle biopsies vs. lumpectomy?

Where are the Stats that traces eating habits and the effect of well-studied supplementation?

And where are the Stats that show how one's attitude and faith skew the odds in one's favor?

Where are so many of the potentially high-impacting variables accounted for in the Medical Industry data?

No where.

And so from my heart I say:

  1. You are not a Statistic.
  2. You are in charge of your healing process.
  3. Educate yourself and be open-minded.
  4. Surround yourself with happy, positive people.
  5. Don't mess with the recommended Cancer Diet, it's Medicine!
  6. Cultivate and unshakeable faith in your ability to heal
  7. You are NOT your illness... it is passing.
  8. Laugh, laugh, laugh... why not?

~ Be Well.