N of One

Hester Hill Schnipper Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MAY 14, 2018

  It is highly likely that none of you have even noticed, but I want to apologize for the delays of the past few days. Blame them all on technology and my less than stellar tech skills. On Friday, I had to leave for the airport pretty early in the morning, so I wrote the blog, but was unable to make the necessary connections to publish it. Everything just froze. Over and over and over. Suspect you are all familiar with that frustration! I ended up cutting and pasting it and sending it to a wonderful systems/IT person at the hospital, and she passed it along to some group that eventually publishes what is sent to them. So it was written in time, but definitely not posted in time.

  Today, I arrived home in mid-afternoon, and, again, have been dealing with all sorts of computer troubles. With the help of Keisha in the IT Department, I finally got this far, but it is going to be late, maybe too late, to get this published today. Sigh...

  The topic is playing the odds and our shared understanding of how much of cancer is a crap shoot. There are some healthy behaviors (e.g. do not smoke) that lower your risk of some cancers, but most others happen for seemingly serendipitous reasons. Bad luck. Or, S ***%T happens. And, once it happens, there are no promises that anything is going to go as planned. Why do some people with early stage cancers end up dying and others, with much scarier beginnings, end up doing fine? There are many theories and no certainties, and hold on to ones about luck and the likelihood that our responses to treatment are related to the drugs and to our own genes. Maybe some of us are just better able (not through any intent of our own, mind you, this would all be at the genetic level) to fight off cancer.

  I very much enjoyed this essay from The New York Times and especially appreciated its' source: a wonderful woman whom I have known since her breast cancer many years ago. That experience was bad enough, but she was diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer, and has recently finished treatment. She is doing very well, and she and I talk often about how she and any one of us is "an N of one" and that the statistics don't matter.

  Here is the start and a link to read more:


After a Cancer Diagnosis: Playing the Odds

By Katie Palay


My grandfather was a statistician, and from a young age he taught me to always consider the odds. A pragmatic man, he couldn’t help teaching me when to hedge my bets, especially when it came to playing UnoUnfortunately, he never could have prepared me for the odds I would face in the years to come.

Shortly after celebrating my 25th birthday, I was given a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After some research and a healthy dose of naïveté, I felt I could kick it pretty swiftly. After all, everyone reassured me that I had the “good kind” of cancer, with an over 90 percent survival rate. Those were odds my grandfather taught me I could get behind.

But two months into treatment, the odds changed; my cancer didn’t respond to standard chemotherapy and had begun growing out of control. I now truly feared my own mortality. But most of all, I feared the excoriating pain and emptiness my family would feel if I weren’t to survive. What would my mom do each year on my birthday? How would my brother and sister feel knowing I would never meet my unborn nieces and nephews? Who would take my place on my best friend’s speed dial?

Those fears motivated me to fight. My job now was to simply stay alive. I headed south from New York City for Houston to undergo salvage chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/31/well/live/after-a-cancer-diagnosis-playing-the-odds.html




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