A recurring training topic on this blog, originally for e-patients but also for clinicians and policy people, is understanding statistics. (See posts in that category.)  Not only are statistics often misinterpreted; even when they’re correctly understood, patients too often interpret a slim chance as no chance.

During my illness I heard from a long-ago co-worker. A cancer patient herself now, she recently wrote that while sitting in the chair getting chemo, she found this splendid and empowering tidbit :

What I think I learned is, you’re either 100 percent alive or 100 percent dead at any given moment,” says Meg Gaines, whom doctors gave a 5 percent chance of surviving [ovarian cancer]. “What statistics tell you is whether you’re in a great big fight, a medium-sized fight, or a little fight. People win and lose all three, so it just tells you what your fighting mind-set is.

“It tells you what level of risk you’ll take in treatment. It informs things. But I don’t think it’s very helpful on the ultimate question: Will I stay or will I go?”

Excerpted in Utne magazine, March-April 2010, pp. 71-73, from On Wisconsin (Winter 2009), www.uwalumni.com/onwisconsin.