What Are My Chances?

Brad Flansbaum tipped me off to this first person account of a Cancer researcher (Peter Bach) writing about his wife’s diagnosis with Breast Cancer. I will be following this story (in NY Times Well blog under ‘The Doctor’s Wife’). Christian Sinclair has an interesting post focusing on how much patients and families want to know about prognosis after a Cancer diagnosis.  There is a vivid moment in the March 21, 2011 post in which an esteemed Cancer researcher says to another (Peter Bach, the writer, husband) about the chance for a relapse of his wife’s Cancer:

All of this progress meant that the chance that Ruth’s breast cancer would come back was a lot lower than it might have been years ago. But what was that chance, anyway? It was the obvious question, and we put it to her oncologist at our first appointment with him. He paused and then offered a peculiar answer. He said we should realize that it didn’t matter. It would either happen or it wouldn’t.

Sinclair notes that a patient asking about chances and prognosis is not only an opportunity to provide a number:

It (patients asking this question) seems like a free pass to begin opening a general conversation about what to expect and how best to prepare, but many doctors still miss this opening as the doctor in the story did.

As Sinclair notes, the comment section has many interesting responses to this physician’s response to the question, “What are my chances?”

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