Useless statistics

Statistics are horse shit. Trying to read something into them is just a recipe for anxiety. We love that there are super smart men like Dr Rob to utilise them, but for us statistics be damned ... they don't help.

Useless statistics

To make up a statistic right off the bat, 100% of the statistics that relate to cancer survivability don't matter.

To us, at least.

From personal experience, Judy and I can tell you that trying to read something into these statistics is just a recipe for anxiety. That anxiety is further increased if you try to navigate your way through where the numbers actually come from.

I've tried to wade though several research papers on the subject. Here's a tip: don't bother. I was certainly not smarter, and certainly none the wiser given the jargon, acronyms and foreign concepts, but it did remind me to be grateful that there are super smart men like Dr Rob to do so on our behalf. What was reinforced though, was for us all the statistics in the world don't change a thing.

I love maths these days, but statistics classes weren't fun in school for some reason. I have remembered now reading these papers, many years later, that statistics still aren't fun, so despite my love of math maybe the statistical hating back then was a portent of future events.

Consider these statistics from the American Cancer Society. As they show, survivability rates go down for people with more advanced breast cancer. I'm no scientist, but to me this somewhat states the obvious, whatever the actual numbers.

  • The 5-year relative survival rate for women with stage zero or stage I breast cancer is close to 100%
  • For women with stage II breast cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 93%
  • For stage III breast cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 72%
  • Metastatic, or stage IV breast cancers, which have spread to distant parts of the body have a 5-year relative survival rate of about 22%

When people refer to cancer "stage" it means nothing more than a description of how progressed the disease is. The lower the stage, the less spread and severity. The higher the stage, the more spread, and the more difficult it is to treat. Judy's cancer is at stage IV, having spread distantly from the original.

These statistics are from 2012 and are quite old now. New treatments are being developed, and the delivery of treatments is also getting better, so similar studying of the odds today would paint a bit more of a cheery picture I'd hope.

Importantly, also not considered is that there are many types of breast cancer, with some types having a far more broad set of treatment options. The type Judy has means she has loads of options, ergo survivability statistics get a boost.

But that still does not escape the fact that with present medicine that stage IV breast cancer is not curable.

A sobering thought.

In short, to us the statistics don't mean shit.

For those reading these stories, Judy's nasty recurrence of breast cancer is probably a great reminder to carpe diem, as the ancient and wise Romans used to say. Seize the day. And we're right with you on that.

We are getting on with the glorious business of living, and not the absolute horse shit that would be a slow, isolated, depressed, anxious, statistics loving march to an inevitable end. Honestly, in our situation we do not get obsessed with the "statistical likelihood of this", or the "standard deviation of that". Life is far too short and precious to worry about damn statistics.

None of us know how long we have left.

Approximately 49 Australian women will be diagnosed each day in 2017 with breast cancer. And for this year it is estimated that the number of deaths from breast cancer in our neck of the woods will be 3,114. That is head and shoulders above our road toll here. With women representing about 25% of fatal accident drivers locally, ladies, there's about ten times as many fatalities related to breast cancer than your being wiped out on the road[1].

Another sobering thought.

Now extrapolate out for other forms of cancer and it makes the road toll look like a rounding error.

Statistics are quite depressing when you think about it.

For us, we plan to keep Judy ticking along with present medicine for the foreseeable future. Hopefully some bright spark of a research scientist will have a "Eureka!" moment and save the day, and come up with a miraculous cure for her particular brand of breast cancer.

In ancient Rome, a bloke called Horace, of low birth status but loved by the emperor of his day is quoted as saying "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero". Rough translation: "seize the day while trusting little on what tomorrow might bring". Smart bloke, that Italian.

  1. These completely useless stats were obtained at and ↩︎