# Math Geek Mom: A Non-Random Study

The idea of a “double blind study” is central to the use of statistics as it applies to medicine. Such a study occurs if the person assigning medication does not know who receives true medicine and who is given a placebo, and neither do the patients or those providing the care. Such a structure attempts to remove the “placebo effect” on the part of both the patient and the treating doctor. Unfortunately, I found myself thinking of this quite a bit lately, as I faced the reality that my little sister is facing the battle of her life.

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October 13, 2011

The idea of a “double blind study” is central to the use of statistics as it applies to medicine. Such a study occurs if the person assigning medication does not know who receives true medicine and who is given a placebo, and neither do the patients or those providing the care. Such a structure attempts to remove the “placebo effect” on the part of both the patient and the treating doctor. Unfortunately, I found myself thinking of this quite a bit lately, as I faced the reality that my little sister is facing the battle of her life. At age 42 she is not only once again a new mother, but also very, very sick.

While never mentioning her by name, I have written of my sister several times in this space. She was born in 1969 at 7 ½ months gestation, when no one knew how to help such tiny babies. Still, she went on to live a fairly typical life, except for a mild case of Cerebral Palsy that limited her ability to use one arm, and led her to wear a brace on one leg. She went to Catholic school and even was a member of the grammar school cheerleading squad for several years, always the littlest cheerleader and, in the opinion of many, always the cutest. She always had a fighting spirit, one that led me to lose many sister vs. sister fights as we grew up. Despite a learning difference that made taking multiple choice tests difficult, she managed to succeed in high school, graduate from college, then to go on to earn a master’s degree that allows her to work with the disabled. Sharing some learning differences with my daughter, she is a great role model for her, and her godmother. They even look alike. The similarity with my daughter makes this all the more difficult, as, in my sleep deprived state lately, I sometimes find myself calling them by each other’s name. It is not hard to imagine the horror my parents must be feeling right now. This is SO wrong.

I am incredibly proud of my sister, although I was not always sure of what she thought of me, since I breezed through life, often effortlessly winning awards for things she struggled to do at the most basic level. Many years ago I discovered a song that I felt accurately described my feelings about our relationship. When I showed her the words to that song, she agreed, saying “this is me!” That led me to scour the record shops of Boston to find a vinyl album (probably from the 1970s) sung by a cheesy singer (on K-Tel records?) that contained the song. If I had waited a few years, the search would have been much easier, as it was not long until Bette Midler made a hit out of the song “The Wind Beneath my Wings.”

It is ironic that my sister needs healing now, since she has participated in the healing of so many people over the years, as she worked with people who had either been born with disabilities or who acquired them through illness or accidents. Indeed, it is through that work that she met her rather unlikely husband, whom she married when she was 35 years old. Together, they soon brought two beautiful children into our family. The youngest of these, whose life is pure gift, was born only a few weeks ago, after a pregnancy that lasted through a long, hot summer. Throughout that time, she often told us that the baby was kicking her fiercely, and she looked forward to the day when the kicking would stop. However, when the baby was born, the pain continued, until she went to a doctor for advice. An MRI uncovered a liver with lesions. She will probably begin chemotherapy on her son’s one month birthday.

It is a good thing that she is “the one with all the strength”, as that is what she needs now. This is why I am asking my readers to participate in what might be seen as a decidedly non-random experiment that was never intended to be a double blind study. For those readers who, like me, are theists, would you please pray for my little sister, using whatever name your faith and culture teach you to use to address the One God. I am asking for prayers for peace for her, for doctors with wisdom and compassion, for a good support system, and for many opportunities for her to build memories with her family, especially with her daughter who is in kindergarten and probably confused at what is happening. Of course, since I still fully expect her to beat this, prayers for healing miracles would be most welcome, too.

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