Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“You have cancer.”

Words so terrible, you stop listening. In my case, I never got to hear them. I reviewed the MRI together with my neurologist in an empty hospital. She screamed and grabbed my arm. A really bad brain tumor looks like a really bad brain tumor. No medical degree necessary:
My cancer was obvious and it didn’t happen when I saw it, and yours didn’t start the day you were ‘diagnosed’. I’d had cancer for months (according to the doctors - actually years as far as I am certain), and so did you, when the doctor said those words. You don’t 'catch' cancer, you get caught with it. The dramatic (my own obvious tumor notwithstanding) ‘advancements’ - most of which are themselves highly carcinogenic - in diagnostic testing have far outpaced any progress toward better treatment, let alone cure.

Almost all of us have cancer of some sort at some time in our lives. My own (but I don’t think original) theory is that cancer is a function of the immune system that has simply run amok. Cancer develops as a result of stress, repeated injury and irritation, inflammation or infection. The fast-growing (and more prone to mutation) 'cancer' cells insulate the affected / infected area from the rest of the body until the immune system can launch a proper response. At which time, they happily kill themselves, congratulating themselves on a job well done.

[this aside from a radiation biologist, I’m in contact with who has studied cancer for over 20 years - sorry, but ‘people’ wanted references, or if you know how to use a search engine, which I’m assuming you do, you can find them yourself], ahem: "That is right. I would say even that everyone has many (maybe thousands of) dormant mutated cells capable of transformation. In addition, by advanced age, most people have several to dozens of small (2-3 mm) in situ (i.e. non-metastatic) benign tumors. The initial cancer event is always a mutation (or series of mutations) in a single cell (initiation). Then its development (promotion) depends on the tissue microenvironment, various protective systems and yes, immunity and inflammation. Infection (especially viral infections) can initiate cancer too."

If the immune system does not launch a response or is otherwise occupied, stressed or compromised or the various causes continue or are repeated, further mutations (DNA-damage) can occur in the ‘cancer’ cells, turning off the p53 gene for apoptosis – the cell suicide mechanism - when the mission’s accomplished:
If the immune system does not then take care of these cancerous cells itself, which it has a hard time recognizing, as they were previously on the same side, they not only continue to live, but multiply. That’s why cancer isn’t contagious: as it would be immediately recognized as foreign by a different immune system and promptly dispatched with. These endogenous rogue cells then develop, grow, divide and multiply (often very quickly) into enough Cancer (with the big C) to be revealed in an expensive test.

The words are terrible to hear, but they aren’t what gave you cancer. If the day you hear them changes your life, you’re ahead of the game, not behind. You realize what’s really important to you, who’s important to you; you become closer to yourself as well as to others. You reflect and gain clarity, when you’re not flipping out.

Cancer is an opportunity to make peace with yourself: to deal with your regrets and achievements objectively and with fresh perspective. It’s a chance to really appreciate the life you’ve had and the life you have left. You get to reprioritize and try to make sense of it all.
Excuse me, but I have a cat to feed:
...and if you have Cancer and found this post technically challenging or spiritually difficult, you've got a lot of work ahead of you. Take a deep breath and get started.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Synopsize ME™

Facing death (and giving it a bloody nose) is traumatic and life changing. People know that, they expect it. They expect you to be outwardly and obviously changed, to impart great wisdom from the beyond or be an insane, drooling vegetable. They expect you to win the Tour de France™ or spend the rest of your life in a home for those of similar incontinence. They expect you to be really nice or really bitter. They expect you to become a Buddhist or at least quit smoking. It’s human nature to expect a return on your emotional investment, some resolution or just plain punctuation. I did.

But facing death is actually pretty exhausting. The return on investment comes with time, rest and reflection, which I’ve tried to enjoy to the fullest this past year and change:

I started teamBEAT!!!™ with Jane and Damien in the very wake of Michael Jackson's embalming - a Soviet synth-pop revival band that toured Germany three times;

Launched two perfume lines for Avril Lavigne, aimed at the consumerist, brand-conscious, yet somehow 'rebellious teen' market... kids today;

Successfully embarrassed one of the richest men in the world (name withheld);

Crashed a honeymoon in Thailand to learn something I already knew about myself:

Had the usual twelve-day festival, mikeFEST!!!™ - now in its 28th year and with ever-better posters:
Got back and better than ever into shape after prolonged illness and atrophy.

And I watched as my two remaining tumors (17mm & 13mm), out of an original total of seven (after the brain baseball), shrank to just one that was ‘only marginally enlarged’ at 12mm (October 2009). That last lymph node is now (as of May this year) down to a normal 10mm with absolutely no sign of cancer.

And I’ve changed in very dramatic, but outwardly subtle ways that were never black and white and rarely apparent even to those who think they know me well. It is a life-changing experience, but it’s my life to change and figure out which babies to throw out with the bathwater. Real change takes time. I’m just happy that I have a lot more of it now.