From Phyllis Ten Elshof, What Cancer Cannot Do (Zondervan, 2006)
Cancer Patient Finds No Comfort in Statistics
Where do you put your hope and trust when you get a bad report from the doctor? How do you get some control of the situation? Author Phyllis Ten Elshof says that, when battling the fear of recurrent breast cancer, she first tried to find comfort in statistics:
“You’re gonna be okay,” whispered the lady in pink as she wheeled me down the hall. “Eighty percent of breast lumps aren’t cancer.”I stifled a sigh. So far, statistics had not been in my favor. My breast lump, which was big enough to be seen by the naked eye, hadn’t shown up on a mammogram. Mammograms are effective only 80 percent of the time.
The volunteer’s prediction wasn’t accurate, either; I did have breast cancer. So why, years after surviving a mastectomy and treatment for breast cancer, was I still drawn to survival statistics like a mosquito to a lamp—especially after hearing that a fellow survivor had recurred?
The size of my lump plus five positive nodes drove down my five-year survival rate to less than 25 percent. What’s more, I, like so many other cancer survivors, had learned how senseless statistics were in forecasting survival. As one doctor said, “Maybe only 10 percent of patients with your type and stage of cancer are cured, but within that 10 percent, your odds are 0 percent or 100 percent.”
So what drove me to statistics? Perhaps it’s the kind of fear that drove King Saul to consult a medium on the eve of a battle that would later claim his life (1 Samuel 28). God had stopped communicating with the king through ordinary means, so Saul tried to conjure up the spirit of Samuel to tell him what to do. Saul got the message all right, but it knocked him to the ground.