Friday, January 11, 2013

Breast Cancer and Termites

I'm such a teacher. I want to make things easy to understand, so I spend time thinking about analogies that make complicated things seem much simpler. For the past few weeks, I've been working on a breast cancer analogy that I really think will work to explain where I am right now and why I'm not comfortable with words like "gone" or "cured".

Imagine that you are sitting on your back porch one day and notice that one of the wooden beams has something that looks like a bug trail running along it. You call the exterminator, and she confirms (yes, she...the one exterminator I've ever had was a woman named Leesa) that you do, in fact, have termites. She does a bit of probing and finds that there is a nest of termites in the wood of the back porch, and there are trails of termites marching around in the beam leading toward your kitchen. You know that termites, left untreated, can destroy a house completely, so it's time for action.

Feeling aggressive, you have your back porch completely removed, as well as that offending beam leading to the rest of the house. While the demolition team is at it, you tell them to go ahead and take off the front porch as well, since termites could show up there someday and you might as well be symmetrical.

Next, you're told that you there could be some termites, either individually or in groups, that walked away from that nest on your back porch and are hiding somewhere in your house. Leesa tells you that she has this termite poison that she can infuse throughout every wall of your entire house. It'll peel the paint and make the house stinky for a while, but it's pretty darn good at killing termites. So you let her come every other week for four months and poison your walls. It's okay. You'll just repaint when it's all done.

After that, she reminds you that although the back porch is gone, there is still that wall where the porch was attached to the house. Her next line of offense is to carefully use a blow torch to do a controlled burn of the wood that's left. That'll get any termites that survived the poison and prevent new ones from growing. After 28 straight days of gradual burning, the wall may always look a little darker, but it's better than termites.

Finally, Leesa advises you that your termites liked eating bread. You must now go for five years without ever having bread in your house, because there might still be that rogue termite somewhere. She cannot actually check every wall and every beam, so you just have to trust that all of these things you've done have actually removed the termites from your house. She tells you to call her if you notice anything odd about your house so she can look more closely, but you're basically on your own now.

Throughout this whole process, you've learned a lot about termites. You found the scary fact that 30% of houses that go through this will eventually have termites again. (This is called metastatic, or stage IV termites.) Unfortunately, the famous termite research foundations are spending more than 95% of their money on looking at porches. Don't you wish they would spend some more time and effort figuring out why, even after all you've done, you might still get termites again? And figuring out how to prevent that?

I hope this analogy is as clear to you as it is when I think about it. Should I give a list of what all of the termite treatments were really called in regards to my cancer treatment, or did you figure it all out?

Quiz on Tuesday.