Stats aren’t all that!

By Tami Boehmer

I don’t believe in statistics.  They’re great when you’re told they are in your favor, but they stink if you’re on the wrong side of them.

It felt good to have a chat with my oncologist and learn he feels the same way. He told me he doesn’t like them! I do believe these numbers lump everyone together, no matter the age, lifestyle or whether or not they are taking an active role in staying healthy. Those people aren’t me.

I told this to my oncologist and he commented that about 80 percent of his patients don’t take care of themselves at all. They go to get chemo, but little else to help the process. So I feel like I’m ahead of the curve.

In sharp contrast, I also go to another city to see a top oncologist who is on the forefront of groundbreaking research. He tells me about great new trials that sound promising and how there is more money being spent on breast cancer than any other cancer.  But he also talks about the grim realities of metastatic breast cancer and makes remarks about the unlikelihood I’ll be around in 15 years. That’s his opinion, and I don’t accept it.

Here’s what Doug Ulman, president and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and three-time survivor, told me when I interviewed him for my book, From Incurable to Incredible:

“Lance often tells the story of how one doctor said to him, ‘I like your chances.’ He said all he needed was that confidence, someone who believed. People want to be inspired and hopeful.

That’s why I don’t often see the value of statistics. It might be helpful if you tell someone that people with their diagnosis have a 90 percent chance of surviving. But telling someone they have a 20 percent chance? What does that do but demoralize them? Could you make a statement about the gravity of the situation and still offer hope? I think so.”

I know there is much more to the equation that goes beyond the medical model. After all, I’ve talked to people all over the country who are alive and well today after doctors told them otherwise.

Medical stats lump everyone together – people who lead a holistic lifestyle, are happy and have purpose in life; and people who eat junk food, don’t exercise, and are stressed and depressed.

David Servan-Schrieber, MD, PhD, in his book, Anti Cancer: A New of Life (Penguin Group, Copyright 2008), talks about the bell curve of statistics from which median survival rates are derived. I recommend you read the book to get the full story; it’s wonderful. When I read it, I highlighted this part and put a star by it because I think it’s so important:

“Statistics we are shown on cancer survival don’t distinguish between people who are satisfied with passively accepting the medical verdict and those who mobilize their own natural defenses.   …  And within this “median” are those who live much longer. This is most likely because, along with the benefits of the conventional treatments they receive, they have somehow galvanized their natural defenses. They have found harmony in this simple quartet: detoxification of carcinogenic substances, an anticancer diet, adequate physical activity, and a search for emotional peace.”

Don’t bet your life on statistics. There is hope no matter what the prognosis.

Tami Boehmer is a metastatic breast cancer survivor, speaker, blogger and author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. You can visit her at


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