If Google says a nude cake-eating contest can cure cancer then it must be true

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If I told you that I can cure cancer by any of the following:

Dietary changes
Oxygen therapy
Coffee enemas
Vitamin C
Fasting
Prayer
Some random exotic fruit

and said that doctors, scientists and big pharma are in some giant conspiracy and they don’t actually WANT to cure you. What would you say?
I hope you’d just laugh, and tell me not to be so ridiculous, and if I persisted I hope some sedatives and a nice white coat would be on hand, but a story I was told the other day has highlighted once again, how ignorant, selfish and dangerous an unfounded belief in so-called alternative therapies can be.

The story went something like this: a young man in his twenties was diagnosed with lung cancer, he had a round of chemotherapy but the cancer returned and he was advised to have surgery and further chemo. This young man then refused surgery because he didn’t want to live with only 1 and a half lungs and refused chemo because it was just poison and instead embarked on a highly publicised campaign for dietary alternative therapy that he believed would cleanse him of his cancer. He was featured on tv and had many followers on his  blog telling him how brave he was and how they wanted to do the same, give up on tested western medicine and try eating more celery instead (maybe not celery but you get the gist). Of course, shortly afterwards his cancer aggressively metastasised and he died, but I’ll bet people are still reading his blog and looking up to him.

The same theme has been bouncing around the Internet for years and the newspapers for at least a century. There are more and more sites popping up claiming to have some secret cure that doctors don’t want you to know about and it is causing a lot of unnecessary and dangerous attention to be turned to practices that are untested and unregulated and away from those that are. They appeal to our primal desire to find a natural answer, an offer of something familiar and proclaimed as safe in stark contrast to the frightening array of strange and powerful drugs with terrible side-effects. I understand how desperate people can get, I really do, but it breaks my heart to think of desperate souls reading this mumbo-jumbo and thinking that’s the way forward for them too, an easier option, and it is for those people precisely that I start to worry about these days of selfpublishing, of irresponsible use of freedom of speech. For a much better, more accurate version of this diatribe see here, it’s a fascinating read. At least the Guardian have got their head screwed on considering this subject. Hopefully the media coverage of the demise of Steve Jobs and the revelation that he regretted choosing alternative therapies such that proper treatment came too late to save him, will encourage at least a few to reconsider their position.

For anyone who clicked a link expecting me to be touting a new miracle craze, I’d like to explain what cancer actually is as what it isn’t, as far as I understand it (I’m a biochemist but not oncologist).

Cancer is not an impurity, a curse, a possession, invasion or a myth.

Your body is made up of millions of cells that all check themselves regularly to make sure they are functioning normally. If they fail quality control, the cells go through one of the many pathways to death, and generally speaking, another cell comes along to take its space. More or less a one-in-one-out situation because your body is a pretty full concerthall. Anyway, sometimes a cell has a problem with its DNA so that it no longer realises that it should die, and it keeps on living even though it’s not working properly. This immortality means that the cell is alive much longer than they normally are, and other DNA problems, like those that tell it to divide when it shouldn’t (arguably this unregulated division might be the first step of cancer formation) So now you have cells that are dividing fast and don’t realise they are doing anything wrong, and your immune system hasn’t noticed a problem because the cells are your cells – they aren’t foreign. See here for a nice description about what cancer is in someone else’s (better) words. So how are you going to go about removing those cells that are starting to sap the nutrients out of your blood and are growing out of control and obstructing your organs without killing off your healthy cells? Well that is what billions of pounds of research goes into every year in the relentless search for cures for cancers because your cancer will be different from Fred’s cancer and Juliette’s…but rest assured that progress is always being made, and that abandoning cutting edge science for massage therapy is going to take you and your loved ones in only one prematurely sad and painful direction. Acupuncture and aromatherapy cannot reverse the DNA damage that has already occurred.

I’m writing this now because on a slightly different topic, I discovered the other day that the NHS are spending 4 million quid a year on homeopathy and I was dumbfounded. Doctors are educated people who are trained to treat according to rigorous, evidence-based studies…and to my knowledge, every attempt to verify the effectiveness of homeopathy has failed (as logic dictates) but patients are still demanding their sugar pills because they read somewhere that it’s better than antiretrovirals for HIV (or whatever condition they have). As well as being a staunch supporter of western medicine, I’m also a believer in the strength and usefulness of the placebo effect. I know someone who thinks that nibbling the corner of a paracetamol will trigger them to make their own painkillers and so thus they ‘cure’ their headaches by essentially taking no drugs. I’m not going to discuss the sanity of this individual right now, but the placebo effect is so strong that it can chase off a migraine. There are, clearly, times and places for placebos, but cancer treatment ain’t one of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for alternative positive things like meditation, healthy diet, vitamins, prayer and even acupuncture and art therapy if it makes you feel better, but when we are talking about serious health conditions never, and I mean NEVER instead of proper medical care.

Now for those that say that chemotherapy is unnecessary poison, I’d like you to think about it long and hard because honestly, the real poison is the false hope and abandonment of medical care that your words strive for.

I know I’m not saying anything new but it’s something I feel very strongly about, so I’m saying it anyway in an uncharacteristically serious and factual manner. The lifetime risk of cancer is fast-approaching 50%, and it’s something that will affect your life one way or another if it hasn’t already. Please be prepared, and take some time to understand new medical advances. Normal non-ranting blog service will resume shortly.

“I don’t want to be hostile.
I don’t want to be dismal.
But I don’t want to rot in an apathetic existance either.” ~Tool, intolerance

Life goes on

I’m still dreaming of her. I still have a splitsecond lapse some mornings before I remember she’s gone. This constant nagging feeling that I’ve absent-mindedly forgotten to call someone, but then realising that I can only talk to her grave now. I miss her so much, but the grief has lifted and morphed into something more pensive and palpable. I smelt something yesterday that reminded me of her and I wonder how long I will remember her scent. I wonder how long I will remember how it felt to be truly and reciprocally unconditionally loved and accepted. I wonder if I will ever be able to step out of the shadow of fear, that I too, will suffer from her fatal malady.

“Ignorant siblings in the congregation.
Gather around spewing sympathy,
Spare me…

None of them can even hold a candle up to you.
Blinded by choice, these hypocrites won’t see.

But enough about the collective Judas.
Who could deny you were the one who illuminated?
Your little piece of the divine.”

One chapter is closed

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The prospect of pain, suffering and death was spread thinly over weeks, months, was it even years?

The unbearable knowledge that life was slowly being ebbed away, by each waxing moon. But life, it seems, cannot be spread so thinly as greif and eventually it can no longer exist.

So here we are, with a gaping hole in our remaining lives, that can be temporarily stuffed with memories, but ultimately, never filled.

The wait is over, and a chapter is closed.

Soupy air, sweaty horses, rocks with teeth and weird Al

Friday was one of those days where the air has been like a savory broth, kind of thick, steamy and soupy. I hope that description suitably expressive the oppressive muggy heat atmosphere that accompanied a 31c heatwave. At work the aircon couldn’t cope and the humidity only seemed to rise during the day…all the bottles taken from the fridge immediately suited in a layer of sweaty condensation…liquid pooling at the windows to the 4c cold room…you get the picture…it wasn’t pretty. Yesterday wasn’t so much better but felt so much worse as our flat, being second floor, inconveniently accumulates the heat from the two flats beneath us, leaving it nowhere to go except snuggles up inbetween me, and a comfortable nights sleep. Thunderstorms don’t break the humidity…and the horses were not too impressed that they were taken out in this weather
Exhibit A

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Hot horses awaiting a shower.

I have, as of the past couple of weeks, developed a sincere aversion to frequenting the dentist. Some ridiculous (allegedly rare) dental mistake cost me in money, time and pain. Three visits to fix the problem and yknow next time I’m offered anaesthetic there will be no sign of bravery…  Just sign me the hell up ok??
If that wasn’t bad enough the dentist must have injected the anaesthetic into a blood vessel on the third visit, as I got really shaky and sweaty and my heart was racing. I felt dizzy like I might pass out and so had to sit and be observed by a first aider until I felt better. Even then, when I got onto my bike I hopped off after about 20 metres because of lightheadedness, walked about a third of the way they finally got back on to continue! Bleugh. If that wasn’t traumatic enough then how about this?

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Imgonna have nightmares about this.

In other news, I have been enjoying the spate of new weird Al videos…and showing them to people who also find them funny, or those who clearly don’t get it….hehe. What I did find was after a few listens of “word crimes” I saw slink to the following in the comments and felt the need to share.

Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography – Language: http://youtu.be/J7E-aoXLZGY

I guess my attitude to grammar lies somewhere inbetween weird Al and Stephen Fry, and I’m OK with that.

What I woukd also like to share is the fact that this story
http://time.com/2976464/rotten-eggs-
hydrogen-sulfide-mitochondria/

Is an amended version of a much funnier but almost entirely scientifically incorrect story stating that scientist (now furious ones I expect…) show that smelling stinky farts can cure cancer. I’ve got a cached version stashed away if anyone’s interested!!

Cancer unzipped, a commentary on social avoidance and horse control progress

Today I received something awesome in the post!

it’s a furry cancer cell (malignant neoplasm)

Photo on 2013-08-05 at 13.25  Photo on 2013-08-05 at 15.41

Photo on 2013-08-05 at 13.26 #3

As you can see the happy healthy cell is all cute and smiley – then you unzip it’s mouth and turn it inside out – it becomes a horrible miserable sickly cancer cell! of course this furry guy can be instantly cured by being turned back inside out (unlike ACTUAL cancer cells – the only way to deal with them is to excise or otherwise kill them 😦 )

http://www.giantmicrobes.com/us/products/cancer.html

Now I know I’m appearing to make light of a medical problem which will affect ~ 40-50 % of the population during their lifetime according to the latest statistics. I feel able to take this stance as 1) my gran has severe cancer (starting out as ovarian) 2) I’ve had a skin cancer scare (severely dysplastic – i.e. a mole which was growing / darkening and looking suspiciously similar in the biopsy to malignant ) and 3) I work in medical research, hoping to one day make some contribution towards the treatment of cancer or other debilitating, common or serious medical conditions. I also grow plates of cancerous (immortalized) human cells for some of my experiments, so I guess I have a slightly different view of cancer to a lot of people.

So I reckon this guy – the furry toy cancer is quite cute and I hope it’s the only cancer I ever get.

There is another side to my opinion though – cancer (by definition – dysfunctional, mutated cells that divide uncontrollably) happens all the time to everyone but under normal circumstances your immune system recognizes there is an issue and zaps the cells into oblivion so no harm done – cancer as we think of it happens when the immune system fails to recognize a problem with these cells and they grow to obstruct organs, hog nutrients and being an overall burden on your system. Did you know that just from ambient radiation you will be getting random mutations accumulating in your cells all the time throughout your life? no? It’s nothing to be scared of – its been happening since the dawn of DNA (hence evolution)! The only human cells which are safe from this process are your germ cells (eggs and sperm) fascinating huh? so even if you get a bad mutation at some point – you won’t pass it on to your progeny – very clever of nature that one 🙂

In other news, That dress dilemma I had resolved itself (thanks Petra !!) I went with zebra print cocktail dress and that was just right ( set me in between the neon pink lycra minidress and full length evening gown crowds). It was a bit weird because we only knew the ecstatically happy couple (oh lord! I nearly spilt half my glass of wine down one of their suits when they went in for an unexpected hug  – thankfully Id plumped for rose – phew). so anyway – the only other people we knew were our next door neighbours – ah you think that’s ok – or thats bad because either you get along well already, or you want to avoid them right – I mean, you’ve lived next to them for about 3 years now…so….

Actually – um – ha – you’ll find this funny – erm – we have  never had a conversation with them which extends further than ‘nice weather!’ or “hiya!” or maybe “how are you doing?” pleasantries only. Well we had no choice – after being told by the newlyweds that they were outside we kind if had to go out there too – cringing all the way thinking – oh god! how do we explain being so antisocial and what if they can hear us arguing through the walls or hear the guitar or my singing – erm

Well after the usual – hiya – how are you doing, isn’t this a lovely place etc I came out with something along the lines of “I’m sorry that we live right next to each other but don’t know each other at all – why don’t you tell us a little about yourselves” and off we went – it turns out that they are actually a really nice young couple – they like vampire movies, one is a teacher, the other an electrician and they really were quite good company for the evening and I am so glad that we were forced to socialise like that otherwise we probably never would! As it stands they are curious to see how my decoration went (apparently no-one else i the block has decorated…) and to be honest Id interested to see the lifesize model of K9  from doctor who that they have i their hallway! we arranged to swap some music and dvds and all is good. They even gave us a lift home in their suped up car (very cool and extremely careful driving too). What I find sad is that living in a place like this you really have to make the effort to get to know your neighbours – you see them in the bin shed or scampering up to their flat but really – that’s it! with no communal garden or anything its set up for isolated units entirely. Sad. but now a bit happier :0)

As for the horse – well you know I had some issue stopping the new horse Casper when we cantered the first time? well the second ride I went out feeling a bit apprehensive and only did transition work (no long distances of canter) as i wanted him to start listening to me! Well I got myself a balance strap (bit of leather that connects to the front of the saddle for emergency grabbing) which gave me a bit of confidence – I also tried to remember the techniques I learnt all those years ago for controling horses and tried some out. It turns out that Casper resopnds well to seat and leg commands – I can get him to speed up, slow down, stop, turn left or right without the use of reins…(that’s in a walk) so we did some more transition training – walk-trot-walk-halt-walk etc and then -walk-trot-canter-trot-walk-trot – just to check the brakes! and he was really responsive – great I thought! we had a few moments when he thought he’d try and take the piss – he wanted to go home and we were going another way – bugger that! he’s not in charge of the route plan! get on with you, you silly horse! when we came to a stubble field I thought – ok there is an entire field to try and stop him in and if we don’t slow down by the corner we can just go round and round the field until we are under control (as opposed to getting to the end of the bridleway where there was a concrete strip…) so off we went (with my friend watching with interest to see what we did!) and he went into tro and canter as asked but threw his head down (oh go! am i going to get bucked off?) but he just needed a cough – so we carried on but one the coughs ended he kind of charged a bit – really stretching his legs and running for glory – at which point I checked my seat – although reins were not loose, I was tilted forwards in the saddle and grippping with my lower leg – ah. I see – although hands were saying slow down, body was saying LET’S RACE! – so I forced my shoulders back, my seat back and exuded some calm, gave a few alternative squeezes on the reins and voila! a controlled canter! although slightly faster than I was used to on Monty, i knew my seat was secure even if the speed wasn’t perfect and when I asked him to trot, within a few strides trot we did :D. I’m so proud of us both getting used to each other – it was a great ride 🙂