Ten years ago at an outdoor shopping mall in Scottsdale, AZ, amid pseudo-grass and plasticized trees, my boyfriend (at the time)’s father nudged him in the arm and asked snidely, “Gawd, she’s a carey-ah-grapha?” I wanted to pull him up by his shirt collar and say, “Yes, asshole, I’m a choreographer because I’m good at it and I like it. Don’t make assumptions about my intelligence. If I wanted to be a molecular biologist, I’d be freaking doing THAT instead.” My self-esteem was ignited like never before. Since that day there are few things I have told myself I cannot accomplish.
As young adult cancer patients, we are forced to believe our cancer is the property of uber-scientists or the domain of self-helpers gurus. If you want to join the self-help gurus, no problem; meditate, pray, blow a wad on their workshops. But what if you want to reclaim a slice of your cancer from the uber-scientists? No problem; it’s free, and requires only a bit of time and the desire to learn.
The leading cancer discoveries are now being made in targeted molecular therapies. For example, an article in the August 31 online issue of Nature revealed advances in the understanding of telomerase. Telomerase is a protein complex whose duty it is to maintain the size and integrity of chromosome ends. Telomerase are active in all human cancer cells, but inactive in most cells that are not cancerous. Emmanuel Skordalakes, PhD, of the Wistar Institute, in Philadelphia, stated in a Medscape news article: “That means a drug that deactivates telomerase would likely work against all cancers, with few side effects.” This is huge news. Think about the chemo you may currently be taking. It cannot tell the difference between a good cell and a bad cell; it just annihilates everything in its pathway causing our hair to fall out, our mouths to burst out in sores, and other lovely symptoms.
If you are seeking hope and positive thinking, you may be more likely to find it in science than anywhere else. Don’t let “cancer research” be a phrase that you only read about on a yogurt lid. Seize your smarts and educate yourself about your own cancer. Sure it might take a little getting used to the med-lingo, but you CAN do it, and you don’t need a degree or a classroom.
Here’s a good place to start: The National Cancer Institute’s ‘Understanding Cancer Series: Molecular Diagnoses’. This slide series is so easy to read and accompanied by such colorful diagrams, if there were a sound track you would think you are watching Schoolhouse Rock.
So, what do you think? Have you ever wanted to learn more about your cancer but didn’t? If so, what has stopped you?