Does a lab rat know that it’s a lab rat? Does a guinea pig understand that it has a job description in addition to a specific species? Probably not. The poor hapless animals are pressed into service to test a theory or product or protocol, their lives an ongoing experiment for the greater good of mankind. Put that way, it seems rather ruthless and cruel, and I suppose that it is, but unfortunately, there is often unpleasantness associated with research and development, the casualties of progress.
But what if human beings were invited to do the same thing, to willingly participate in the testing of some new drug or treatment? Then, it becomes a choice, as the pros and cons, the possible benefits and long term side effects carefully listed in a slick brochure. This is what is known as a clinical trial, and I have been given the opportunity to see if I qualify to join.
So I here I sit, a month after my last chemo regimen has ended and two weeks after the scan showed only a partial response. I still have active cancer in my body and left untreated, it is going to quickly spread to organs that I am going to need if I want to survive. That fact tends to poke me in the middle of the night, rousing me from a deep sleep and transporting me into the Land of Worry. I am a frequent visitor there, unfortunately.
We are told that when God closes a door, He opens a window. Oh how we love to use that phrase to console the downtrodden. But I can’t help but think that we have to be willing to crawl through it, not choose curtains to adorn it. And in my case, the Lord has presented me with two entrances into the great unknown. Yet somehow, I find myself shopping for the perfect draperies as I ponder what to do next. Yes, it is a metaphor, a good one to describe where I am right now.
The medical folks like to view modern health care as a partnership. Gone are the days when they decided what was best for you and wrote the prescription on a printed pad. Now, they want for you to be a participant in the decision-making process. I suppose that’s to create a collaborative atmosphere, but perhaps it is also to share the responsibility when things go wrong.
And so, I have a been given a choice, a possible trial with yet unproven drugs or chemotherapy geared to my specific situation. Trust me when I say that I have spent the past few days asking the sage Dr. Google about statistics, falling down the rabbit hole of social media as I pose questions in various ovarian cancer groups. And yet, I feel no more informed than I did a week ago when my doctor proposed the idea.
That’s the thing about choices: once you have picked what you think is the best one for you, all of the other possibilities evaporate, the potential they once offered, gone. The implications of that are huge, and although it may seem dramatic, in my case, it is a matter of life or death.
I am reminded of the short story, “The Lady or the Tiger?” It is probably one of the most famous allegories ever written, widely studied in schools as an example of an unsolvable problem. And just in case you need a refresher of sophomore English class, an accused man is forced as his trial to make a selection between two doors. Behind one is a hungry tiger and behind the other is a beautiful woman destined to be his wife. But his lover, the princess, learns that the woman is her bitter enemy and secretly indicates to him which he should choose. Stockton’s tale of power, love, and decisions ends with this line: “And so I leave it all of you: which came out of the opened door, the lady or the tiger?”
I have no idea.