Monday, February 17, 2014

The Big C

Cancer. Hands down it’s one of the ugliest words in the English language. Phonetically speaking it’s not that bad. Two little syllables and they roll off the tongue easily enough, but when you look at the definition and the implications, you’re dealing with an entirely different set of cards.

The uncontrolled growth of malignant cells within the body.  That’s just about the simplest way to put it. A cluster of cells decides it doesn’t want to play nicely with the neighbors anymore and the next thing you know the body’s politics are being tested in an unpleasant and often fatal conflagration. A quick look at Wikipedia (not always the most accuratge source of information, granted, but probably not too far off in this case) states that there are over 200 different types of cancer that affect the human body. Mind you, those are only the ones that we know about. I suspect we’ll keep learning about more of them.

What causes cancer? If you listen to the news and remember what they say, damned near everything. Cathode Ray Tubes. Fluorescent Light. Stress.  The Sun. At least a third of all artificial sweeteners. Meat. Some vegetables. Electricity. Pesticides. The water in our pipes. Cigarettes.  In the case of Lon Chaney Jr., I believe it was a plastic snowflake that he inhaled while working on a movie that was the culprit behind his lung cancer.

Cancer is, in the simplest terms, a mutation. Somewhere along the way the body looks at something going on inside itself and makes a wrong choice. Instead of seeing an ingrown hair and deciding it should be pushed out of the flesh it decides to react in an inappropriate fashion  and something new and foreign grows in the body.  Mutation. Seriously. Mutation in the right situation is evolution, right? According to Darwin and many of his disciples, giraffes changed because they needed to reach food that was out of their range.  Fish crawled out of the water and started walking on land. You know the score of you completely ignored biology when you were in school.  The thing is, those mutations were controlled. The body made a choice and made alterations that went the right way. It took time, generations even, but eventually the changes were finished. Or maybe not.  According to most of the historical notes the average height of people has changed vastly over the last few hundred years. I’m tall by today’s standards, but in medieval times I would have been a giant. Mutation happens constantly, I suppose. But it’s controlled. There is a purpose behind it.

The implications are vast. And when it comes to horror, really, there isn’t much that’s worse. Think about it. Your own body decides to attack you and there’s little or nothing you can do about it. And how do we fight against cancer? Why, we hit the damned stuff with every poison we can think of and hope the body is stronger than the cancer, or, if we can get to it before it’s had a chance to start spreading, we just cut it out of the body.  One friend of mine had a father who had to stay away from her newborn daughter for several weeks as a result of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, because contact with his flesh might have accidentally poisoned the toddler. Seriously, think about that.

Uncontrolled growth of the flesh.  A wasting disease caused by our bodies eating themselves.  Virulent mutation of the cells in our bodies.  Our flesh rotting away as it fights against itself.

And I’ve been accused of writing horror? I should be that scary. 

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