A mesothelioma diagnosis can be a grim thing. Doctors have not yet discovered a reliable cure to this rare cancer. They most often diagnose it only in the later stages when many of the most effective treatments are no longer viable. This means the disease is usually terminal.
However, it’s important to remember that all the numbers about survival rates are averages and estimates. Yes, the disease has claimed far too many lives too early. But for all their struggles, there are also stories about those people who beat the odds. People like the Oregon woman who heard, in January 2019, that she had one year to live but was sharing her story with the local newspaper in November 2020.
People aren’t average
The first thing to remember about all the averages and estimates is that they’re more meaningful for large groups than individuals. This was a point that famed scientist Stephen Jay Gould made when he addressed his diagnosis.
Median numbers and averages lump different cases together. But many factors impact the amount of time a victim may still have. As the American Cancer Society notes, these include:
- The stage of cancer at the initial diagnosis
- Overall health
- White blood cell count
- The type of mesothelioma
- The cancer’s response to treatment
As you consider these factors and more, you realize that everyone’s story is slightly different.
Additionally, as Dr. Gould said, attitude matters. The numbers don’t account for attitude, but there are real ties between a good attitude and better life expectancy.
Treatments keep improving
Although there is still no reliable cure, researchers keep looking. Their efforts keep pushing new advances. Some of these, while being short of a cure, have offered breakthrough new treatments, such as the Tumor Treating Fields (TTF) that have helped extend the Oregon woman’s life. They can also improve the quality of life.
Because scientists and doctors keep finding better and more effective ways to treat the cancer, they are continually pushing the survival rate upward. Yet, the survival rates that people learn about tend to be from older studies.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story
Every year, there are more tragic stories about people whom mesothelioma claimed too early. There are also more inspiring tales about people like the Oregon woman who beat the odds. And the truth is that scientists don’t fully understand all the factors that differentiate between the two stories. There are relatively few studies that address the roles these factors play on survival rates.
In the absence of better data, it may be wise to consider the common themes among the success stories. They tend to teach us the value of using a diagnosis as a call-to-action. The people who beat the odds tend to focus on enjoying their time with friends and family. They draw strength from their relationships, and they embrace their treatment with a good attitude, thankful for each new day it helps them see.