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.


Mik said...

Hey Mike!
Great post, very enlightening, easily understandable.
Shloopers looks indeed very hungry, as always. :)
See you soon.

damien said...

nice one! debunkn' myths while feedin' cats. that's multi-tasking

Anonymous said...

Nicely said. Quite inspirational for those who might find it suddenly very personal... at least I think so. It is quite odd, that we become more aware of our self’s and important things around when we get badly hurt or cancer of some sort. Pain free and happy life we all seek and wish to our dearest can actually lead us toward ignorance and hypocrisy. Something we just don’t see happening in our everyday life, but are aware of somewhere deep, deep inside. Do people with serious illness or trouble live fuller, more colorful live? Do limits make you enjoy more? Quite possible... dominik

Anonymous said...

Mike, you are a hero! Keep writing; it's a pleasure for us readers! Martin Jaros

Anonymous said...

So- what is your current cancer status? I wish you were here in Peru. Ann

mike said...

Thanks for all the encouragement! I really appreciate it. I have a CT scheduled for this week. I'm going to try to postpone / cancel it in favor of a marker test or nothing at all.

Current cancer status (as of May): none detectable. I don't really need that confirmed by yet another carcinogenic exam at taxpayer expense. I somehow feel that defeats the purpose.

Francisco said...


juliuscesarsalad said...

Mi tia abuela nos recomendo que no preguntaramos "porque cancer" si no "para que cancer?" Cual es el proposito, que nos ensenara, que tipo de persona seremos a raiz de esta enfermedad al igual que cualquier otra cosa en esta vida. Transformar lo "negativo" para salir mas poderosos y mas completos al final. Gracias!!

mike said...

Muy bien dicho, gracias a ti. Voy aprendiendo (y a veces olvidando) todos los días, no es tan fácil...