Just musing

The Year of Living Cancerously

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.” – Richard Dawkins

What will you wish you’d done before you died?” – Chuck Palahniuk

The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Jack Kornfield

13.7+ billion years ago, the universe came into existence via the Big Bang. The first of the atoms was hydrogen. Millions more years passed (300). Gravity pulled the atoms together. They fused as the body grew and the pressure at the center heated. Hydrogen nucleared (I’m not a physicist) into Helium. Helium nucleared into Lithium and on down the Periodic Table. * This is what we call a star. This is where all the atoms in the Periodic Table come from. A burning star. A furnace in space that, upon it’s death, will create the building blocks that make life possible.

When a star burns/nuclearers down to a core of iron, no more energy can be emitted. The star succumbs to gravity, collapses upon itself, explodes, creating the last burst of energy needed to create higher elements like uranium and gold. Supernova.

The elements fly off into the dead of space. Gravity would have it that elements clump again to one another and form other stars. Or planets. Or comets. Or asteroids. Or little shits we once called a planet, like Pluto, that have been demoted to Dwarf Planets. I’m with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Get over it.

Zoom in on a planet.
Not most which are too hot, too cold.
Too lacking of water.
Too much water.
Zoom in on…Earth.

Mutation, mutation, mutation, Fish.
Volcanism, methane gas – Great Dying.
Mutation, mutation, mutation, Dinosaur.
Asteroid in Yucatan.
Mutation, mutation, mutation, rise of the Mammal.
Mutation, mutation, mutation, Ape-like creature.
Mutation, mutation, mutation, Man.

Amazing, isn’t it? The atoms which make up life were created in the nuclear furnace of a star, scattered into space and against the odds, made you and I.

The universe is, in most cases, the slow roll of Lyell’s Uniformatism. But it is punctuated by significant bouts of Catastrophism; albeit, not like that imagined by Velikovsky but catastrophic non-the-less.

A year ago, I went for an annual check up only to find myself three weeks later under a blade. The good doctors removed a Stage II cancerous tumor from my colon. It lay along the right wall that, had it burrowed through to the other side, would have spread along to the liver and lungs. If I had thought, “eh, I feel good” and skipped said physical, it would have been caught only when I started feeling pain and I probably wouldn’t live to see my kids age another three years.

It appears that I am an X-man. I am genetically predisposed to getting cancer, more so than a “normal” human being. But looking at the formation of the universe down to the evolution of man, I am not in the least surprised this fell upon me. We are made up of a patchwork of genes, some older and once beneficial to our ancestors, others more evolved that have stepped in and turned off the no longer once valuable ones. But the elder are still there in what was once thought of as “Junk DNA”.

Our bodies are rather like the Registry of Microsoft Windows. There are actually some entries that today’s programmers have no idea what they do because they remain purely by legacy. So what happens when a legacy gene turns on? Some current research suggests that’s exactly what cancer is. A legacy from our primordial ancestors, when life was a single replicating cell and replication (cancer) was the key to survival. But single cells evolved into complex, multi-celled organisms. The trade off was that instead of immortal-like replication, cells passed the baton of reproduction to germ cells (sperm and ova) while garden-cells replicated a limited number of times and died. Cancer appears to be a reawakening of the fast and furious replication of the primordial Metazoa 1.0; or, how single-celled life worked over a billion years ago. What causes a primordial gene to reawaken needs continued research. But the key to fixing cancer may be locating said gene and turning it off. Or, at least, suppressing it from ever turning on.

Oh the freedom my little tumor gave me. I shall miss it.

From the time my tumor was removed (May 2012) to the present, I have done more than I’d done in the past few years. An aluminium row boat and trailer got refurbished last summer. It had been sitting for years and I always thought, “Well, I have time.” It took cancer to get me to do it and I fished from it summer’s end. My family took several trips around Michigan, ones we postponed, always thinking, “Well, we have time.” We saved money thinking, “We can spend it later.” But this past three-hundred-sixty-plus-days, on the ones I felt good from the chemo treatments, I lived. I finished my novel. I got a short story published. I, in conjunction with Alan J. Sanders started this blog. I pushed myself back into the world and said, HEAR ME!

Ever since my wife gave me my long sought after pocket watch, I’ve developed an almost addictive habit of pulling it out, clicking it open and noting the time. Unlike the cell phone or other clocks where, once looked at I’m unable to recall what time it is when immediately asked, I do remember after closing this watch. It’s more than the display, the design. It’s the small gears flicking back and forth, spinning, that forces me to pay more attention to it. It demands a long observation of what is passing before me – Time.

It is inevitable we’re not going to make it. Even if a pill could be taken to ensure a cancerless, immortal-multi-celled-body, five-billion-years from now, the life of our sun will come to an end. It will expand before it collapses and the expansion will destroy the Earth. So we either accept extinction or go Star Trek and get the hell out. In other words, the problem is, we think we have time.

Knowing this information is, to me, very key to freedom and happiness. Why? Because it teaches me that the universe is set up very little in our favor. Due to that, it’s of utmost importance to not dilly-dally with the time I have left. I was no more aware of the 13.7+ billion years that came before me, I have maybe, thirty more years left (science willing), and then the universe will continue on for several more billion. This finite, small, insignificant time I have of consciousness is not to be wasted. True freedom is in recognizing what little time we have and making the most of it.

So what should you do with the time you have left? Should you sleep in front of office buildings and complain life isn’t fair? A Tyrannosaur could tell you how unfair life is. Should you bitch that you’re not making enough money at your current job? You can always try something else. Do you petition that marijuana should remain illegal, caring what others do to their bodies? Do you basically act like a Mayor Bloomberg and worry about what other people are doing with their lives or do you go out into the spotlight and try to make something great for yourself before the Tsunami takes you down? Get a terminal illness and see how long you give a damn about the minuscule things in life.

There’s a lot of “this is unfair” and “that is unfair” talk. My colleague, Alan J. Sanders, has written some excellent articles as of late showing that you must accept the bad for the good to become a fuller person. The bumps and bruises assist a child into healthy adulthood. I’m here to say, you must also accept the laws of the universe to be that much better. (Yeah, I know. Me telling you to accept laws. Odd, eh?)

You are going to die. The universe doesn’t care about you. Your body is a patchwork of what worked in the past and what gets by for now. You’re programmed to die, around the age of forty, because that’s when most humans have passed on their genes (and the body has become such a host to parasites that it aches more than when it was youthful). It is only by the grace of science and modern medicine most people avoid such an early death. I say don’t waste the extension by telling others how to live their lives. Don’t waste it worrying that your neighbor’s garage is four-feet longer than zoning codes. I say, don’t waste it on worrying that your neighbor didn’t cut his grass and now it’s almost eight inches high. I say, don’t waste it because you saw a fellow fisherman take in six bass when the limit is five. I say work on your own life and leave others alone as long as their actions are not hurting anyone.

What will you wish you’d done before you died?” the mechanic says and swerves us into the path of a truck coming head-on.

Ride a horse,” comes from the back seat.

Build a house,” comes another voice.

Get a tattoo.

Live now. Do it now. There’s some big-ass rocks in the sky. Gravity is a bitch.


* A star doesn’t always go from Hydrogen to Helium down the Periodic Table. It can jump around.

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