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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: A Larger Sample
August 30, 2012 - 7:09pm

In statistics, we talk about a “population” as being everyone that could possibly be included in a study, such as everyone who lives in New York City. In contrast, we talk about a “sample” as being a subset of a population, as, for example, all people in New York with a last name beginning with “L”. I am thought of this recently, as I realized that I need to find an even bigger sample as part of my self-appointed job as “prayer coordinator” for my sister, who, as I have shared with my readers is battling cancer.

When my sister was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) last fall, I was shocked. She was basically a healthy young woman who had just done what I was never able to do; give birth. During her pregnancy she often complained of her son kicking her under her ribs, and said that she looked forward to having the baby so she could be free of the pain. When the pain did not go away after my nephew’s birth, doctors discovered a cancerous liver that was, even at that early date, “stage IV.”

Upon hearing the news, I went into full research mode, first looking for information on the internet and then using the resources available to me as a faculty member who works at a college with an excellent nursing program. I found journal articles, sent a copy of Stephen Jay Gould’s famous essay to my parents, and found a list of clinical trials that I sifted through. I e-mailed some of the top physicians fighting this cancer, asking them to please consider us for a live liver donation, even though it was doubtful that either of us was eligible. I was impressed at how many of these important doctors replied to me, understanding my desire but not being able to include us in their work because of very strict protocols for such donations. I was discouraged, but it was worth a try. And so I plodded forward.

Along the way, I discovered the web site of the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation that became my constant companion and deserves a note of praise. I spent many days sifting through the discussion board there, never officially registering but feeling like I was becoming intimate friends with the people who manage and monitor that conversation. I sometimes cried at the stories there, but more often found hope in the journeys of other cancer patients and their loved ones. I had every belief that my sister would be one of the success stories, and, although I recognize the inevitability of death for all of us eventually, I still hold on to that hope. I am not ready to erase the image I have of the two of us as old ladies vacationing together with our grandchildren.

My sister received two types of chemotherapy, all while working and also caring for two children, including a baby. The first kind of chemotherapy worked wonderfully at first, with results that surprised her doctor, before evolution kicked in and the surviving chemo-resistant cancer cells took over. This led to a change in treatment, which also worked for several months. However, after almost a year of treatment, it is clear that this, too, had become ineffective. This type of cancer is particularly resistant to chemotherapy, and so her options at this point are now limited. She will meet with doctors at a major research university next week to discuss a possible clinical trial.

I am hoping that this trial will offer hope, but in case it doesn’t I am asking my readers, most of whom are associated with organizations where research occurs, to try to recall if they know of anyone doing research on this cancer who might be able to offer her more options. My sister rightly rejected my ideas of traveling around the country to visit various doctors and hospitals (road trip?), but I want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned while we still have the opportunity. If there is anything out there that might help her fight this nasty cancer, please let me know.

I am often on the phone or e-mail, contacting my friends to update them and to ask them for prayers for her. Despite this nasty turn of events, I still believe that there is a God who wants her to survive even more than I do. However, the truth is, my sample is limited by the number of people I know. And so, to expand my sample, I am asking my readers who are fellow theists to please include her in your prayers as she searches for the next step. She is an amazing woman and will always be my personal hero.


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