Of Cancer and Immortality

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My growing fascination over the field of oncology could not be contained. The little pieces in my life that seemed like  coincidence have placed me here where I could marvel about the science behind cancer. This fascination may have been hereditary. I might have gotten it from my father who was also once fascinated by cancer. He tried to fight against cancer as an oncologist, and still tried to fight cancer as the patient himself with his own metastasized hepatocellular carcinoma (liver CA). But I never really got the interest in it until I had the chance to learn more about it in the school of medicine. Having gotten in the field of medicine has only opened more possibilities for me, more learning, and understanding about oncology.

Recently, I have read the book of Siddhartha Mukherjee entitled, The Emperor of All Maladies, a biography of cancer. And this book has given me a broader understanding of how cancer partook, not just in the history of science and medicine, but in the lives of many people, those who survived and those who did not.

I marvel at the thought that, cancer may have been the immortality that many have sought for in the past. It grows indefinitely, and it surpasses the need for apoptosis, or cell death. The function of the cancer cells are nothing different from the function of our very own normal cells, only they have outwitted the normal ones. It has maximized the need to survive, to repair itself, to mutate again and again if needed just to outsmart the well-studied chemotherapeutic agents. There are people who have long died because of cancer, but they live on with their still living cancer cell lines that are used for more research. Indeed, cancer has survived throughout the centuries, science and medicine may seem to be running just behind, but I like the analogy that Mukherjee said in his book, referring to the Red Queen hypothesis. The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland said, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” There is no chance of slowing down, otherwise we fall off from this race against cancer.

Cancer, the disfiguring immortality, has no definite cure until present. Death seemed like the definite cure, but we know that cancer cells may live on even with the person inflicted already dead. The heterogeneity of this disease seemed like a big chaos to the observer, but to the keen scientists who have poured their lives in studying it, they have seen an organized chaos. And this organized chaos built in the genes of humans may, in the future, point us to a more definite answer to the disease. Despite the vast knowledge on cancer at present, we are still burdened with a lot of mortalities.  Screening and imaging may have led us to detect cancer earlier, but the outcome has not gotten us far from the previous rates of mortality. With all the death and defeat, scientists, doctors, and patients still wage on with the war, knowing there have been a few who survived and lived on with victory.


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