Saturday, May 30, 2009

The weakness that lurks in strength

I was really struck this week by a quotation from a news story that said cancer cells "are very sick cells that have needed to make a lot of compromises."*

This is just something I never considered. I mean, you look at cancer cells, switching off their self-destruct button and multiplying until they overcome everything around them, and you don't think about their being weak. Short-sighted, maybe, since killing one's host while trapped inside it is not the best way to prolong one's own life, but not weak.

It's a ridiculous line of thought but hey, it's the weekend - what if cancer cells have made so many compromises they aren't even aware any more of the implications of their actions? I always imagine non-cancerous cells to be quite selfless and socially-minded compared to cancerous ones, which seem self-absorbed and hate-filled (can you tell I'm a fanciful writer and not a medically trained person?) but if they're sick - maybe they don't know it. Maybe they could be rehabilitated. Maybe this is the far-distant future of cancer care - healing the cancer cells instead of killing them.

Then there's the betrayal factor. Cancer cells don't start out sick. They're not some virus that got in from outside, though I know a virus can sometimes turn a vulnerable cell bad. An awful lot of cancer cells must just be born and raised to live healthy lives of service before going horribly wrong and cannibalizing their own selves, by which I mean us. That's got to be the biggest compromise of all.

More unexpectedness: feeling sorry for a cancer cell. I diagnose sleep deprivation (again) and will medicate with a cup of tea.

*Stephen Elledge, Harvard

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