Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31, 2009 - A Scary Thought for Halloween

Here’s a scary thought for Halloween: We’ve all got cancer.

Read this creepy little item, from an October 26th New York Times article:

“Cancer cells and precancerous cells are so common that nearly everyone by middle age or old age is riddled with them, said Thea Tlsty, a professor of pathology at the University of California, San Francisco. That was discovered in autopsy studies of people who died of other causes, with no idea that they had cancer cells or precancerous cells. They did not have large tumors or symptoms of cancer. ‘The really interesting question,’ Dr. Tlsty said, ‘is not so much why do we get cancer as why don’t we get cancer?’”

A thought along these same lines is this one, that I read in a National Geographic article some time ago, and that’s bugged me ever since (in more ways than one). Our bodies are also riddled with microscopic animal hitchhikers: lice, dust mites and the like.

They feed off things like our discarded skin cells. They’re so tiny, we’re unaware of their presence. They cause us no trouble we’re aware of. But they’re here. Our bodies are their home.

Not only that, our digestive systems mightily depend upon bacteria, who make their home in the human gut. Millions upon millions of these microorganisms come into life, grow to maturity and die, sustained by the same foods that sustain us. Many of these bacteria actually help us, because they scarf down food substances we can’t digest, and excrete them in forms that we can. (Mmm, mmm, good!) One of the reasons doctors are so wary of over-prescribing antibiotics these days is that these nuclear weapons of the subatomic world indiscriminately blast out all kinds of bacteria, the beneficial as well as the harmful. Here’s a picture of lactobacillus acidophilus, which is one of the good guys:

Our awareness of our own bodies is pretty much limited to the macro level, the things our own senses can take in. When doctors take on a foe like cancer, they have to contend on the microscopic level. Cancer cells have to number in the millions before they even show up on most tests and scans. To form themselves into an actual tumor, something like an enlarged lymph node that can be felt or seen without special techniques or equipment, there have to be a great many more of them than that.

On Halloween, or any other time, it’s not so much the things that go bump in the night we ought to be scared of. It’s the things that silently swish by, submerged within the salty, microscopic sea in which our cells swim, that can cause lasting harm.

There’s some good news arising out of that infinitesimally tiny perspective, though. According to the same Times article, some cancer researchers are changing the way they look at the disease. Once upon a time, they viewed cancer’s progress as inexorably linear: once it appears anywhere, it can only grow larger. The only questions for the doctors, following that way of thinking, are “How fast?” “In what direction?” and “How can we stop it?”

Now, it turns out, a lot of cancers don’t grow much at all. Some even grow for a time, then reverse course and disappear into oblivion. Summarizing the views of Dr. Barnett Kramer of the National Institutes of Health, the Times article goes on to explain:

“The image was ‘an arrow that moved in one direction.’ But now, he added, it is becoming increasingly clear that cancers require more than mutations to progress. They need the cooperation of surrounding cells and even, he said, ‘the whole organism, the person,’ whose immune system or hormone levels, for example, can squelch or fuel a tumor. Cancer, Dr. Kramer said, is a dynamic process.”

There are many ways in which my cancer is like that. The indolent lymphoma I have is just hanging around for now, doing not much of anything. We’re watching it, and we’re waiting.

Hope we wait a long time.

Now, here's a little Halloween fun:

Monday, October 19, 2009

October 19, 2009 - The Gloves Are Off

Today, following a Facebook link, I come across this video of the President speaking on health care reform. The gloves are off. “No drama” Obama is stepping up at last, to identify the heart of the problem with our health-care funding system. It’s the insurance companies:

The insurance companies are richer than rich. They’re powerful. They channel huge amounts of lobbying money and campaign contributions to Capitol Hill.

There’s one thing they can’t change or influence, though. As the President says in this message, a large majority of the American people is in favor of change, and elected him in order to bring it about.

The coming weeks and months will tell whether America is still a democracy, or whether it has become a plutocracy – a system in which money talks so loudly that even our democratically-elected representatives dance to its command.

Keep at it, Mr. President. A great many of us out here are behind you all the way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15, 2009 - Thanks to Those Lighting the Night

A big "thank you" to all who are participating in Light the Night Walks tonight, and on other nights this Fall, in many different places! The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society sponsors these walks, which raise money for medical research and patient support programs.

It's a great organization - as is the Lymphoma Research Foundation, which has a more specialized mission focusing on lymphoma alone.

Here's a news report in which Saturday Night Live veteran Tina Fey speaks of her support for the cause:

Saturday, October 03, 2009

October 3, 2009 - Imagine a World Without Cancer

There are lots of things that divide us in this world: language, culture, ideology, nationalism, religion. One thing in which we are absolutely united – or ought to be – is in facing the threat of cancer.

Cancer knows no national boundaries, no economic class, no cultural barrier. It’s an equal-opportunity threat. Grasp that reality, and somehow all those other rifts within the human community seem a little less important.

Cancer, as this little video points out, is the common enemy: