Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A great article about odds and illness

I just read this wonderful essay in the NYT by a regular guy - a guy who is at the same time a husband and a doctor - watching his wife having a chemo infusion for the first time. The article centers on the risks involved in chemo infusions of Taxol, a drug used to treat breast cancer, and the rare but potentially fatal allergic reactions to the drug.

I liked this article for two reasons. First, I think it addresses the fear that any of us who take Remicade, or any other strong and dangerous drug, experience. Infusion reactions are lurking possibilities that could occur at any time. The reaction to Taxol can be far more serious than those for Remicade, but the fear he and his wife experience echo my own.

Second, the addresses something that all of us with unusual illnesses struggle with. Odds.

The author, Dr. Peter Bach, writes about the risks and odds he has encountered with his wife during her fight with cancer:
Each time we heard “that rarely happens,” we knew that whatever it was – fevers requiring hospital admission, mouth ulcers that would stop you from eating, overpowering fatigue, hair coming back a different color – it could actually happen. Each time the odds were in our favor, but the odds on the other side were not zero.
Our disease, Psoriatic Arthritis, is not common - roughly only one in 200 Americans have it. Put one way, you could say we beat the odds when we got our diagnoses. But instead of making us feel lucky, I suspect beating the odds makes most of us feel more vulnerable. As someone with multiple diagnoses, I take each new ache or odd sensation a little more seriously - because I never know when I'll beat the odds yet again.

Dr. Bach puts it nicely.
The odds that Ruth would get breast cancer before she reached age 43 were about 100 to 1. Odds seem a lot different once you’ve come up on the short end.
Chances are I couldn't say it better - so I won't even try.

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