Statistics stashmisticks!

Today I read a blog post on JBBC’s site – a guest post from Tami Boehmar, author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds  which touches upon her experience with breast cancer reoccurrence. And something she mentioned reminds me of a long-ago decision that feels very relevant today. Tami says, “Statistics are just numbers that lump together a large, diverse group of individuals. They don’t apply to me, and they certainly don’t apply to the people who’ve shared their stories of hope with me.”

It seems everyone (or every other person) with breast cancer has a story to share, and a lot of us – particularly a lot of the computer-savvy crowd – turn to blogging, twitter, facebook etc. And through this online community I’ve gotten to hear from many women who are fighting breast cancer and taking control of their diagnosis.  There’s talk about grabbing boobs, changing diet, meditation, positive focus, reconstruction, reoccurrence, moving on, getting started, etc. And it’s this sort of cancer-related dialogue that I appreciate reading.

What I cannot stand, what I’ve never been able to tolerate, are the statistics.

Sure, 90% of breast cancer cases caught early are curable. Excellent. That’s a friendly stat, very nice to read in a women’s magazine. But then you google ‘breast cancer’ and read further – read about later stages of the disease, about young women diagnosed, about numbers that don’t look so glossy on the page. And that’s when I need to turn off my darn-tootin’ computer, because it’s scaring the crap out of me. What good are these numbers? Who do they comfort?

In a past life (aka, my undergraduate degree) I studied psychology. Psych is a really fascinating topic, and there’s lots to say in its favour. But ultimately, after three years of study and a year of experimentation, I decided to walk away from the field. Why? Because of statistics.

When you turn a person’s experience into numbers, you lose everything that was important in their journey. You lose the highs, the lows, the tears, the celebrations, and the realizations. You lose their beauty. Tami is right. Statistics are like processed food taken from a wide range of unknown faces, blended and pureed into easily packaged products. That essence of living, of growing, of exploring – it’s all lost.

So I’m reminded today of why I left psychology, and why when the doctor tells me I have a 50% chance of reoccurrence, I file that bit of news into the “unnecessary info” folder.  Too bad they don’t hand you a pamphlet of success stories during those consultations. “You’ve got half a pizza, but look at these incredible women and how they’re challenging those numbers.  Maybe if you follow their awesome example, you can improve your chances.” Because what’s the worst that can happen?  We improve our lives – regardless of outcome – and find meaning from the bullshit.

Statistics have their moments. They give guidance. They provide protocol. But as a woman who’s already beaten the odds by getting cancer way too young, I think, ultimately, they can take a hike.