Amy Thayer, PhD, recently joined Achieve and The Millennial Impact Project as director of research. You can learn more about Amy’s background and the expertise she brings to Achieve on her bio page

My best friend has cancer.

Cancer … the biggest and scariest of all “C” words. This discovery was incredibly painful to hear and even more difficult to take to heart. In my mind, he had just been given a very unfair and cruel death sentence. I was stunned and overcome with sadness. I cried…A LOT. And, as a further blow, it was believed that he had bone cancer—arguably one of the most painful kinds of cancer to endure. I doubted and questioned the diagnosis. However, instead of adopting anger I remembered the wise old adage, “knowledge is power.” The researcher in me said, “Arm yourself with data and trust science!”

By the way, this story has a happy ending.

Research and data, concepts some people find mundane and boring, are actually critical elements in understanding the things that baffle us. The unknown can be scary and overwhelming, and as a result, often leaves us feeling paralyzed—sedentary. But, it is discovery and knowing that begin to propel us to action—movement. In fact, initiating the scientific method for problem solving is useful in systematically moving us from thinking-to-acting. Adopting the scientific method is critical in investigating a cancer diagnosis; however, it is equally useful in determining the cause(s) you will give yourself to. While there are many ways to fashion the scientific method, essentially, it involves six basic steps:

Scientif

The first step is to observe and identify the problem. In many ways, researching a devastating medical diagnosis is like determining what cause you want to allocate your time and/or money with. The problem (cause) you are interested in most likely stems from a personal experience or encounter with an illness like cancer.

What is the problem you want solve?

Next, you must examine your question and then gather data. You’ll want to obtain as much information as possible from a variety of reputable sources. Accumulating accurate and credible information is key. In my best friend’s case I reviewed data of patients who exhibited similar symptoms. I repeat this same step when identifying how to engage with a cause. Research organizations that support the cause, how these organizations use your gifts and what impact they make on the cause you want to support.

What is known about the problem?

In attempting to resolve the problem, you must formulate a hypothesis. Whether you’re attempting to predict the form of cancer that certain symptoms are suggesting or deciding the best approach to take in supporting the cause about which you are passionate, hypothesizing is a crucial step in uncovering meaningful answers to important questions. Developing predictions based on initial observations about the problem you want to solve is key to taking appropriate action.

What outcomes do you expect?

Now, test your hypothesis. Experiment with the data. For example, with illness, testing for the presence of specific kinds of cells within specific organs may assist in an accurate diagnosis. Likewise, information you’ve uncovered about your cause may warrant a small donation to several different organizations to see which ones allocate the donation to services and resources.

How has your hypothesis been supported or refuted? 

Analyze the findings. You’ve got results; use them to provide the answers to the questions you’ve been asking. Allow the data to provide insight into your prediction. Understanding the findings will assist in knowing if the diagnosis is correct, in the case of an illness, or if you have selected the appropriate way and/or organization to support.

What do the data reveal?

Conclusion. Finally, it’s time to make a decision about action. What’s the outcome?

Have you done your research? What cause have you selected to support? How will you engage with this cause?

Barkley

As for my friend and me? Well, let’s just say canine cancer has now made my list of causes to support because my pal, Barkley, a nine year-old Bearded Collie has cancer. However, with help from the scientific method and a very astute veterinary oncologist, my hypothesis that the initial bone cancer diagnosis was incorrect, was confirmed. Barkley has a very uncommon diagnosis for dogs—indolent lymphoma. As a result, I am happy to report that he has not been issued a death sentence, and is expected to live many more healthy years – an outcome I could never have predicted with a diagnosis of cancer.

Lesson learned: Do your research!