Thursday, February 24, 2005

Heads or Tails: A Deadly Set of Odds

A lot of things in life just seem to be random. But are they really? I just learned with great sadness that a colleague at work had been diagnosed with breast cancer. My boss, when somewhat embarrassed while telling a small group of us, used phrases like, “They got it all, “ and “They caught it early.” She will undergo chemotheraphy and will probably survive. But this kind of news always shakes me up to the core.

Debbie is a really smart statistician, who early on learned how to balance common sense with bureaucracy, something that most feds never learn how to do. She has defied the vocational odds and managed to work part time for the 15 years since her children were born. She has gotten the ear of people in high places in both the Census Bureau and in Congress. She is articulate and she always has something worthwhile to say.

So what makes a person like this a target for this wicked dis-ease? Was she genetically predisposed to it? Was she subjected to some chemical in her lifetime that triggered it? Was she really stressed under that calm exterior to the point where she became ill? Or did she just randomly come into sample, the way the households in our survey do?

I wonder how this will affect her, physically and mentally. She has already had the surgery. I’m sure the chemotherapy will probably make her nauseous and cause her hair to fall out. Just as when I had my thyroid cancer, she will probably ask herself why her body betrayed her and wonder if malignancy is masquerading somewhere else in her body. I hope that her generally positive outlook on life, her family, and her faith will make this less of an ordeal.

More and more people I know have had cancer. Most have survived. But it is never easy to hear this news. It’s a reminder that our bodies are somewhat fragile and that life is never a certainty.

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