Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Vampire Assassins

So there are a couple of questions that other people have asked that have never really crossed my mind. The first of which is, "this must be a mistake, right?" Funny, that it never even entered my mind. Sloan Kettering has my slides, if they find that Staten Island Pulmonary Associates made a mistake, I'm sure they'll call. Like "hey, these slides just had chocolate pudding on them, you're good".

And then of course there's the "why?" I've actually never asked myself that question. There's a billboard that you see on the way over the Outerbridge Crossing from New Jersey into Staten Island. On it is a beautiful little boy, no more than 10 years old. Next to his smiling face is stated the fact that he has a brain tumor and is fighting for his life. When someone can adequately explain to me why he has a brain tumor, I'll ask why I do too. Until then, I'll just subscribe to the theory that shit happens.

But the scientific why, that I know. There was once a time when medical science believed that Cancer was a virus. Like they literally believed you could catch cancer from an airport. That wasn't a completely ridiculous assumption actually. In laboratories scientists could never get human tissue to stay alive in their artificial environments for more than a few days at a time. Normal human tissue always dies off. It isn't meant to last, a cell has a finite number of times it will split until it just dies of old age. But if the scientist then infected that human cell, altered it with some outside influence, they could get it to live much longer. In fact they got a couple of strains to live forever. So it was not unreasonable to believe cancer was caused by an outside influence. And that is true, that is how cancer cells can form, but the outside force is not necessarily a virus. Cancer cells form mostly due to age, genes eventually break down and mutate and age raises that probability. Then there's factors like lifestyle, environment, some viruses like HPV, starting off life with bad genes like BRCA, and others... But for the most part, you can't really catch it (HPV cervical cancers notwithstanding).

As for me, one day a couple of years ago, I had a lung cell that had one mutant gene. Up until that fateful day, it was still splitting like it was supposed to, doing it's lung cell thing, because his gene twin was still normal and was doing the work the mutant gene had stopped doing. The good gene was keeping it all in check. But then one day, in that one cell the mutant gene turned to his perfect twin and said, "Come on? Are you really satisfied just being normal? If you mutate, together we can live forever and be all powerful." And the twin said, "I like the sound of that" and it mutated too. So I now had a lung cell with two identical genes no longer doing their job of finitely dividing until they quietly died of old age. Nope they were now immortal and can divide infinitely. Together they became my very first lung cancer cell.

Cancer cells are as close to the actual incarnation of Vampires as there can be. They do not die of old age like cells are supposed to. They multiply as much as they want, wherever they want. And even worse, they feed on blood. They siphon it from your organs, sinking their little cancer cell fangs in and drinking it up. Once they amass enough in their initial spot, they hop around your body, using various travel systems depending on the kind of cancer you have. They find other organs to suck dry. They are brilliantly efficient killers and have I mentioned they live forever? The doctors estimate that all the spreading that occurred in my body happened over a period of 6 months. I can not emotionally wrap my mind around that. It just seems so fast. And I have a slow growing cancer. What the hell does fast growing cancer do?

So how do you kill cancer? Well you have to drive a steak through it's heart, cut off it's head and stuff it's neck with garlic. The steak through the heart, well that's your oncologist's job. Be it chemo, radiation, surgery, medicine, whatever. You send those steaks flying through the air and hope your aim is true. The cutting off of the head and the garlic. Well that comes from you. Your faith, your love of life, family, friends, support from your neighbors. It all plays a part. Does it work, only time will tell. All you can do is gear up for the fight and hope luck is on your side. I do not discount luck, I refuse to accept that people who lose their battle lost it by any fault of their own. So I will not remove the word luck from my vocabulary as much as people in my life might want me to. I will honor those who lost their fight as much as those who won. I don't know why their are winners and losers in this fight, I wish it was only winners. Maybe one day when we know about the disease, screening and medicines, that will be the case.