Foreword: I have written this article about two years ago, however several periodicals said that even though they like the idea, it doesn’t fit into their magazine’s/newspaper’s format. It is a very important topic to me though, so I want to share it with as many people as possible – especially with those who are facing a life-threatening or life-altering disease.
What I want to talk about is your prognosis when diagnosed with a disease. The examples that I use here are about cancer patients, but the concepts are true for most of diseases. And I want to show you that it does not matter whether you were given a good or a bad prognosis with your diagnosis – your personal chances for surviving or overcoming an illness are 50/50.
Here I would like to suggest a different view on statistical numbers – when the human life or the quality of the life is on stake. It is my strong opinion that we have to change the way of delivery of the diagnosis to the patient, when it is any kind of life-threatening disease or a disease that has a potential of affecting one’s quality of life. And my proposition is to change the way we bring the news whether the prognosis is good or bad. I have seen too many people die from a “not-serious” disease; at the same time many people overcame diseases when the chances they were given were minimal if any.
It is very important to give the patient as much information as possible, including the survival rate. But we should emphasize that these numbers are theoretical numbers and they refer to the populational studies – your personal prognosis is 50%. See, it doesn’t matter if the research shows that 90 out of 100 people survived having had this specific diagnosis. It doesn’t even matter if the research shows that 10 people out of 100 survived. You, personally you, are going to be either among 90 or among 10 people in both cases. And your chances are 50/50.
I think it is very important to start your journey after a diagnosis, such as cancer, with these numbers on your mind for the following reasons. No matter what is the prognosis, it is the hardest thing to hear about having a disease like cancer. Depression is one of the worst conditions that come along with the disease for many patients. The worst part of it is that it consumes any energy that the patient is left with because of the disease. When the prognosis is bad, most people get very discouraged, even if they are asymptomatic. It is much more difficult for a person who is already weakened by the disease and can find no strength for fighting in a situation where they see no chances and have no hope (as they see the situation in that state). However, we all know that there are endless stories around the world when the person survives, recovers and flourishes even when they were given 0% chances. These people would have loved to have, for example, 13% chance of surviving the disease. In fact, they would have loved any number other than zero. Therefore, no matter how poor the prognosis is, we have to do everything in our power to make sure the patient has the best attitude there is.
Best attitude doesn’t mean to accept a treatment or surgery that gives you 15% chances of survival and recovery. Best attitude means to find the best approach for you and to go for it, feeling strong and peaceful. It is also important to always keep in mind that the state of mind for a person who has just been diagnosed with a disease, that will change their life dramatically, is completely different from the state of the mind not only of a different person (the doctor for example), but also from their very own mind at an earlier point in time. So it is vitally important for them to know, realize, understand, and feel that they can make this diagnosis only a part of their future life.
Now, why is it important to have the 50/50 approach for a person who is diagnosed with a disease that has a much better survival rate? Unfortunately, I have seen and heard of too many lives cut short because of the person, or even the doctors, not taking the disease or the symptoms seriously and/or because they haven’t acted responsibly. In many cases, the reason for not taking things seriously is the good prognosis itself, which makes things particularly sad. They learn that, let’s say 85% of people survive this disease and think that everything is fine, no need for worries, no need for even paying closer attention to one’s health. It is so comforting to think that 85% of people survive this disease. They haven’t been told, or they have forgotten, that in the case of cancer, for example, the survival rates are calculated for a period of five years. That only means that, when the study was done, 85 out of 100 people were living five years after the diagnosis. In other words, even with a good prognosis like 85%, we don’t really know how the numbers look 6, 7, 8, 10, 15 years after the diagnosis. It is not comforting to think about the fact that 15 out of 100 people died already within five years after being diagnosed. How many lives could be saved, if people with better diagnoses would clearly realize on all levels of their being that good prognosis doesn’t give a guarantee of survival, even if the prognosis is 98%. This to me is one of the most important realizations that the patient can have. Only after this can it become clear that you, the patient, should have an active participation during both the treatment and the recovery and that only by taking better care of yourself can you increase the chances of surviving and recovering.
After all, if there is one thing that a disease can teach us, it is that each day is a wonderful gift and to make the best of it is to master the art of living. Taking a good care of our body, mind and soul is one of the best ways of making sure we make the best of our lives.
So my take-home message for you is this:
- please, please don’t get discouraged by a “poor” prognosis. Both “good” and “bad” prognoses are so subjective – all that matters is your attitude. By having the right attitude, you will improve your chances instantaneously!
- please don’t let the “good” prognosis make you feel so comfortable that you don’t take a proper care of yourself! This was my mistake, and I don’t want it to become yours as well.
And most importantly, make the best of each day!