If I received money every time someone asked me why we don’t have a cure for cancer yet, I’d have enough money to run away to Italy. Or, at the very least, pay off some credit card debt. I usually just shake my head and answer with “I don’t know” because it is the easiest/laziest answer I can give to someone. I don’t think many people realize that the term ‘cancer’ is a very simplified word to describe a whole giant group of diseases. The thing that groups these diseases together is a common root cause: abnormal cell growth. That abnormal cell growth can be caused by genetics, viruses, chemicals, obesity, autoimmune disorders, hormones, and physical agents like asbestos or BPA. Any one of those things can set off a chain reaction in one cell that leads to a mutation in an oncogene that can have various results. A daughter cell inherits the messed up gene and then goes hay wire The mutated gene causes the cell signal other cells. The gene mutation can make that cell start dividing. A mutation any where in the oncogene can lead to multiple situations. Basically, it’s a molecular level choose your own adventure in cancer. Cancer is fucking complicated.
That’s why we don’t have a cure for cancer.
Yesterday, Josephine and I were finishing up watching CBS Sunday morning and we’d reached the part where they show this week’s calendar. That’s how I know that today is Cancer Awareness Day. When it was announced on TV I thought “great! I’ll just add that to the list of things I’m totally aware of this week.” Like for instance, how Chris would be forty eight on Wednesday. The day after Chris’s very last birthday, I spent the whole day crying. The. Entire. Day. I just cried and cried and cried and cried. By the time Chris actually did die, two days later, I was a complete shell of a human being. The nurse told me Chris had passed and I looked at the hospice care worker and said “what do I do now?” She thought I was asking about who comes and takes the body and all of that other stuff you have to take care of when someone dies. I kind of meant that, but I was really curious about what exactly I was going to do now, in general, for the rest of my life. These are the thoughts the I am very much aware of every year during this particular week in February.
The thing that I am usually least aware of during this week is what killed Chris. Abnormal cell growth formed a tumor on Chris’s liver right around the junction of where the left and right hepatic duct meet up. This meant that he was no longer able to excrete liver wastes and bile, which aids in digestion. Still to this day, I have a hard time admitting that cancer was the cause of Chris’s death. It just happened way too fast and without any warnings for me to be able to admit that. Also, at the end of the day, no one was really able to tell us what had caused his cancer. They found a small amount of cancer cells in esophagus and one specialist tried to link the tumor to those. They also talked about hepatitis B. If you read this article on Viruses and Human Cancer in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, then the whole hep B theory makes the most sense. Don’t worry. I was vaccinated for hep B and C ages ago. Chris’s vaccination history was a bit sketchy. No one could say for sure what vaccines he’d had over the years.
Viruses are the cause of around fifteen percent of cancers. Epstein Barr, hepatitis B and C, human papilloma virus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The hepatitis viruses and HPV are about the only ones with vaccines. They can all be prevented by using safe sex and safe needle practices. So maybe instead of focusing so much awareness on finding a cure for cancer, maybe we should be doing more to prevent the cancers we know how to prevent.