If you are reading this, know that the risk of having at least one cancer in your life is 40% — almost the same as flipping a coin. In other words, two of every five individuals skimming through this article right now, will have, have had or are currently suffering from cancer.
I know I scared you.
And no, it’s not a joke.
Cancer: The Disease
Cancer is like that bad friend your parents asked you to keep a distance from. Even if just one of your 32.7 trillion cells becomes cancerous, it does not take much time to ruin all the other cells and make them act against your own system. It multiplies and destroys, it kills and decays.
Once cancer touches a part of any of your cells, nothing is ever the same again.
In the simplest terms, cancer is a menace, a poison, a bane, a toxin–which eats up our lives and we don’t even realize it. And it’s not just the sick who is affected. The worst affected are those people who are the closest to them–the friends and family because they all get diagnosed along with the patient.
Cancer: The Lore
The thing about cancer is that — there is not just one single reason behind the development of cancer. Anything and everything can contribute to cancer, and we do not know which of our actions could flip the coin to cancer’s side. According to the Somatic Mutation Theory—which is perhaps the most prevailing paradigm in the past half a century in cancer research—cancer of any kind comes from a single cell that has accumulated all kinds of DNA defects (or mutations).
I will tell you a story. But this one is not mine.
According to the Greek Mythology, Procrustes, the son of Poseidon (The God of the Sea) was pretty popular and ‘super-friendly’. He would often let people, especially travellers, stay at his home during the night.
Wait for the bad part. There is always a scary creepy part in all mythologies.
In order that his ‘guests’ fit the bed, Procrustes would chop them or stretch them on a rack to fit them just right.
Where am I getting at?
There are a billion facts about cancer- how they start, what happens next- which are being discovered every single day, even now as you read this statement. Each one of these facts has been tortured to fit the somatic mutation theory just right– exactly like in Procrustes’ story. The fact that a single cell becomes bad and kills the patient is not completely true.
But there is more to cancer than just the somatic mutation theory.
It’s time to leave the Procrustes bed and understand that what kills the cancer afflicted individual is the metastasis –– literally the mother of cancer (not the birth mother, but more like the evil-step-mom, of cancer). Metastasis is when the cancer cell starts spreading throughout the body, making the others just like them — cancerous. As a consequence of which, a lot of things start happening at once because that’s what cancer is — it is not just a disease condition.
Cancer is like a collection of vastly different diseases — each with a different cause and treatment.
Cancer: The Beast
I will not get into the technical details of how cancer damages us. But what I will discuss is what exactly it leaves us with. Cancer is like a beast that ruins us in most unimaginable ways — leaving gushing wounds which are far too deep and takes forever to heal.
During the summer of 2015, I lost my grandfather to cancer. Within just two months of diagnosis, he had to wrap up his life and leave the world forever.
That’s what cancer does to us.
The beast comes into our lives without knocking, without even warning. It does not care how healthy you may be or how well you were taken care of. It just makes you live in the hope of seeing the next day and to live the next day as if it were to be the last. It makes you realize that most things in life don’t even matter.
Cancer makes you understand that your fears were just fears and how many things you took for granted. It makes you feel, for once, how precious life really is because every single moment feels like the last. And it makes you think how this time last year things were different and how much you hated it back then. Cancer makes you see — how low you were in gratitude for the people you had in your life.
And you know that’s not even the bad part.
The worst part is realizing that you had a chance to do much better for people whom you loved so much but you didn’t. Because you thought that the last time was not the last time- there was more.
But there wasn’t.
And those wounds the cancer-beast left you with? It takes time, but heals.
However, those scars shall remain forever.
But that’s the great part about scars though — they serve you as a reminder what you and your loved ones went through and came out victorious. Or not.
Those scars remind you of how you almost wanted to give up too, but you didn’t. And survived each day taking one day at a time, brick-by-brick.
About the Author
Fareeha Arshad is a forager of meaning, a reader by passion, a writer by choice, and a scientist by vocation. The Arab born, confused Desi lives on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia with her parents and siblings, where she spends most of her time studying, teaching, writing or cooking.