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Cancer’s Crooked Casino

July 2, 2014

The reason most casinos can keep their doors open is because the majority of people who walk through their doors walk out losers.

Casinos devote tremendous resources to ensuring their odds, their percentages based on every manner of data they collect from players.  The advent of so-called “players’ cards” most gamblers carry provides casinos with a steady stream of the information; information they need to constantly stay ahead of the numbers’ curve.  And most gamblers provide this information willingly.  It’s amazing what a free king crab dinner will get you.

Casinos are all about numbers.  Everywhere you look you consciously and unconsciously see numbers; on the roulette wheel, at the craps tables, the cards at the blackjack and poker tables and on the casino’s bread and butter, the slot machines.

But no matter who walks through their doors, be it the professional gambler or the occasional Friday night slots player, the best odds you’ll get in any casino is 50-50.  Cancer is a lot like a casino.  The odds are the most important factor.  For many, they’re the only factor.

The first question a cancer patients asks is, “God, why me?”  The second question is usually to his doctor, “What are my chances?”  We all want to know the odds.

There was a time when cancer was like a crooked casino.  With its weighted dice, unbalanced roulette wheel and marked decks, the odds were always in its favor.  Cancer never lost.  It stacked the odds against medical science.  Statistically most didn’t stand a chance.  Like those lured into the crooked casino, only the very, very lucky walked out winners.

To a certain degree, depending on the type of cancer, that’s still true today.  Among cancer’s three “Big L’s,” lung, liver and leukemia, the latter, if you believe the Internet, has the lowest percentages of long-term survival.

Studies by the Mayo Clinic and estimate there are less than 16,000 diagnosed cases of AML leukemia a year.  Of those 16,000 cases about 8,000 will be patients 65 and older, while 2,000 will be children, teens and young adults under the age of 21.

And right in the middle, at just 6,000 cases, are patients primarily in their mid-50s.  That’s 6,000 cases in a U.S. population of 315 million.  What are the odds?  Seems like I’d have a better chance of hitting the lottery than contracting leukemia, but here I sit, in the chemo room, one of only 6,000 in my age group who have AML.

Survival percentages for most cancers can be found across the Internet on hundreds of reputable sites.  Surprisingly, there’s a lot of consistency to the statistics.  And while those survival numbers take into account every type of patient, ethnic group, young, old, sick, healthy, smokers and the obese, white males in their mid-50s with AML have the lowest five-year survival rate.  Only 25 percent will make it past five years.

Which brings me back to slot machines, the casinos’ bread and butter.

Despite the fact they have the lowest odds of all, about one in four, slot machines are by far the most played games in casinos.  Again, it’s about the numbers and American’s apparent inability to understand mathematics.  Most players can’t count cards, don’t understand the nuances of poker and don’t want to risk $5 a hand at the blackjack table.  In their minds, $5 represents 20 pulls on the quarter slots and that’s got to be better than just a single play against a dealer where the odds increase to 50-50.

Players will sit at slot machines, many knowing they only have a one in four chance of winning.  It takes little effort and no thought to hit the spin button.  You don’t even have to understand where the numbers or symbols have to fall for you to hit.  As my sister Tammy, who often finds herself in front of the penny slots, told me, “Don’t worry about that.  The machine will tell you if you’ve won or not.”

Maybe it’s the ease of use in most players’ minds that makes up for their willing acceptance of the lower odds at the slots.  Regardless, about 75 percent of slots players leave losers.  Casinos know it and there’s nothing players can do about it.  And when I do find myself in a casino I only play the slots even though I know the odds as well.

The same can be said for my cancer.  Even though I know the odds for long-term survival are one in four, I have no choice but to play the “cancer slots.”  I’ve never played blackjack, or any other game in a casino, but nothing forces me into the Hollywood or L’auberge to face my one-in-four prospects.  Cancer compels me through the door of its disease-filled, often crooked casino and right to a seat in front of “Safari” or “Wheel of Fortune.”  It does it everyday.  It never forgets to remind me that 75 percent of people with AML won’t last five years.

But then again, as my sister Tammy told me, “Someone makes up that 25 percent survival category.  That’s a real statistic too.”  And my sister plays a lot of  slots and she wins a lot of money.  On one of her recent visits to L’auberge she walked out with $1,500.00 on the penny slots.  That’s a lot of king crab, sis.

Tammy, Renee and I find ourselves talking a lot about the odds these days.  They constantly remind me that I’m in remission and got there inside of 40 days of diagnosis.  Sometimes, as strange as it sounds, that’s not as comforting a fact as it should be.  I don’t know why.  I ask myself, “Would you rather be in remission or not?”  The answer is stupidly obvious.

Upon further reflection, 25 percent were the exact survival odds I had as I sat here two years ago draining a bag of chemo.  Stage 3 esophageal cancer takes 75 percent of its victims in the first 12 months, so maybe in my cancer casino, 25 percent isn’t as bad as it sounds.  It’s time to spin the wheel.  Mr. 25 percent is ready to play.

Now, where did I put my “Players’ Club” card?




17 Comments leave one →
  1. John Walter permalink
    July 2, 2014 8:07 pm

    Congratulations on your remission! (Even though it is great news, the sentiment sounds very odd.). Will you be able to go home soon? I certainly hope so.

    Best wishes and continued prayers.

    Have a Happy 4th.

    • Rene'e Dana permalink
      July 3, 2014 2:08 pm

      Thanks John. He was released and is continuing his recovery at home.

  2. Straightedge or yardstick, depends on the day permalink
    July 2, 2014 11:31 pm

    Its past midnight and I’m listening to classic rock songs and Kansas’ Dust in the Wind is playing and it made me think of my mortality, and what you’re going through. I pray to the Lord that He blesses you with abundant energy to kick the living shit out of this devilish attack and restore you to complete health and well being. I don’t apologize when using harsh language to describe Satan’s plans. Kick its ass and then kick it some more. Love Michael.

    • Rene'e Dana permalink
      July 3, 2014 2:09 pm

      Thank you very much!

  3. Penny Bouquet permalink
    July 3, 2014 12:10 am

    Keep on fighting honey!!!!! Hugs and luv!!!!

  4. Howard Arceneaux permalink
    July 3, 2014 4:19 am

    Keep fighting Mike, never give up!! You can beat the odds and I know you have the spirit to kick it!! You truly are an inspiration to me and I know you’ll never give up!! God speed, my friend!!

    • Rene'e Dana permalink
      July 3, 2014 2:11 pm

      He is a fighter Howard. He is my own professional boxer of sorts.
      Thank you

  5. July 3, 2014 6:00 am

    You have plenty of prayer warriors. For me, you are on the top of my daily prayer list. My gut tells me you’re going to beat the odds again.

    • Rene'e Dana permalink
      July 3, 2014 2:12 pm

      We appreciate the prayer warriors. Keep them coming! Thank you

  6. Julie Baxter permalink
    July 3, 2014 8:40 am

    I’d put my money on you every time, Mike. Celebrating your strength and unbelievable talent on this July 4th!

    • Rene'e Dana permalink
      July 3, 2014 2:12 pm

      If only you were a gambling woman. Thanks Julie!

  7. Mace Thornton permalink
    July 3, 2014 8:19 pm

    Mike, Glad you are doing well and beating the odds. Also…congrats to you and your team for the recent awards at the AFBF Commmunications Awards Show in KC. Wish you could have been there with us.


  8. Rene'e Danna permalink
    July 3, 2014 8:37 pm

    Thanks Mace

  9. Lori Oster permalink
    July 4, 2014 11:24 am

    Thinking about you, Mike, and our prayers are with you each and every day. Your determination and fight will help to get you through this. So happy to see you are now in remission. Rene’e, please take care of yourself, too.
    Lori and Rich Oster

    • Rene'e permalink
      July 18, 2014 7:12 pm

      Lori and Rich,
      We are looking forward to seeing you in November.

  10. August 3, 2017 4:04 am

    The gamer should adapt to a set of regulations and for that reason remain targeted through the rule.

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