My friends and family hold vigil over me while I am in the hospital for 5 days. Mostly I am in a Dilaudid stupor and feel pretty good except for stomach muscles that refuse to lift or push. Sitting up is a challenge. My belly is swollen as though I am pregnant, which I have never been and of course never will be. I have time on my hands and begin to wonder again. I am filled with questions – and remember my first high school chemistry assignment. Write down as many questions as you can think of about a burning candle. I couldn’t think of any. At the time I was looking for answers, not questions, for stasis and solidity, for things to Be. I got lost and stuck in the names of things. Language, the very act of naming which is supposed to clarify, to enable knowledge to expand, got in my way.
I wanted things to be tidy like math seemed to be, with one right answer. But that same year my calculus teacher introduced irrational numbers and the concept of limits, of values that approach precision but never really reach it. Literature was the worst – open to interpretation. It presented no concrete answers. Two Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King were shot. Nothing was stable. Not numbers, not the US government. I seemed to live in a constant state of ambiguity and wanted out. But there is no getting out, even some 40 years later, and now I have questions, bundles of questions: I want to know. Did the surgeon get out all the cancer? Did some microscopic remnant remain that could travel to my heart, liver, lungs brain? How does the hospital dispose of cancerous tissue? Where do dead cancer cells end up? In land fill? Is their DNA capable of going dormant, of staying intact without a body to inhabit? What is cancer exactly? Who are we anyway? Supposing one of our primary purposes is to evolve through mutation or to host millions of other organisms – and all the rest – truth, beauty and the pursuit of happiness are just accidents of an upright stance and a larger brain. Whether intended to be or not, we definitely are hosts:
Science Daily (June 5, 2008) — The number of bacteria living within the body of the average healthy adult human are estimated to outnumber human cells 10 to 1.
According to a well referenced article in Wikipedia, we each have about 1013 human cells and these host 1014 bacterial cells, some living symbiotically and helping us digest carbohydrates. Others are potential pathogens waiting for our immune systems to be compromised.
But what about cancer? What is the advantage in killing your host? No wonder my cancer cells are freaking out.
According to the American Cancer Society:
Cancer begins when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control. There are many kinds of cancer, but they all start because of out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.
Cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth. Instead of dying, cancer cells continue to grow and form new, abnormal cells.
What if cancer holds the secret to longer life, what if it could be made to form new normal cells instead of abnormal? Could we possibly put cancer to some good use? What triggers the very first mutation that makes a cell cancerous – and is one cell enough to start the ball rolling or do bunches of cells have to mutate at the same time? What triggers cancer to metastasize? How does it travel from one part of the body to another – through blood? Lymph? Along nerve pathways? Are cancer cells a different color from the host tissue? Different texture? Why does one person and not the next get cancer? Why Me? (That again.) Because of all the toxic chemicals I have been exposed to?
Because I never had a baby, ate too much soy, had too much estrogen? Will nano technology finally CURE CANCER?
The gifts in my room pile up. Prayers come from every direction. Some fly across great distances. One friend sends good wishes from the north rim of the Grand Canyon, “I was sitting at Bright Angel point . . . for (your) metta meditation. I can still feel that absolute sense of peace with the rock under and around me and that vast canyon in front as the sun started to reveal it.”