Monday, October 31, 2005

Cancer

I’VE lost several friends to cancer. Ex-combat pilot-turned-painter/preacher Lino Severino. Erstwhile PCGG head Haydee Yorac. Hausfrau Avelina Lasa Mata. Stage actress Adul de Leon. Iaidoka, movie villain and sparring partner Ernesto Ortega. They passed away not exactly in that order.

Cancer remains on the list of the nation’s top three killers. That bothers me, the “killer” tag. It’s bruited about as a lifestyle disease. We can take that to mean a lethal lifestyle. Cancer can be seen in a different light, though, something of an unwelcome growth within, an emerging factoid in the flesh. Maybe an insistent call for change, more likely, total transformation of being.

Could be a tugging for the human organism to evolve some more, yes, attain its true potential-- to take a go at Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere and become truly human, maybe a try at becoming Friedrich Nietszche’s uberman or superman? Far out and far-fetched twitch of the imagination I’m having.

I’ve wondered what it was that triggered such unwelcome growth— why, a cancer cell represents a snippet of runaway information. Was it certain food additives—something called carcinogens-- nagging like a shrew, nudging cells, the push comes to shove as those chemical compounds accumulate and reach critical mass inside?

Chew the cud of elusive, inexplicable info. The body system probably couldn’t grasp (put a leash on?) the odd, unlikely raw input. Maybe the bit of information was popped inside as a riddle or a Zen koan that ached for answers—answers we can’t supply, satisfy. Nagpapaunawa sigurong kaalaman mula sa sariling himaymay ng laman.

I could be wrong but my guess is we are not merely bodies of flesh, bone, and blood… We are also bodies of knowledge, a growing stockpile of every bit of know-how learned, every whit of fact absorbed as we live moment to moment, day to day… As kinesthesia or the study of human body movement has it, each thought—right or wrong, awful or wonderful—takes on tissue, dwells in us.

Haven’t we heard that phrase many a Sunday school ago? “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word took flesh and dwelt among us.”

Let’s face it: most of us aren’t really in touch with our own body and its myriad processes. We barely have an inkling of an inner chase for runaway pieces of information… And most of us are averse to new information. Or fresh ideas. Piping hot inputs. A sudden gush after a brainstorm. We dare not chew through the new. We dare not sink the mind’s teeth on news; or turn ‘em into chunks fit for easy digestion.

Maybe the cancer cell could have shifted a sequence of its genome, the genetic material in us —it might be a mawkish way of drawing attention from zillions of other normal cells it has to keep company.

Maybe it worked over a new genome sequence out of the assigned letter codes G, A, T, and C— could have made a sci-fi movie called Gattaca or unabashedly cribbed this writer’s electronic mail address, tagakataga@yahoo.com.

It was probably bored with the destiny of dying—infirm cells wreak deaths on themselves in a process called apoptosis. It’s strictly good housekeeping, a cleaning of dirt and debris, a coming to terms with death and decay. Cell death is inevitable after 50 or so regenerations—or after going through a gauntlet of trauma, infection, poison, the wear and tear of living. But then, the cancer cell must have turned ambitious, craved for a new lifestyle or status. Or it must have wanted to live on beyond a normal cell’s appointed date with death— so it mounts a full-scale uprising to overthrow the host-given habitat that sustains cell life. And as revolutions go, this one also devours its own children.

The body feeds on itself. It is insane inhered horror! Cancer has slowly turned the body and its tissues into a cannibal that feasts on its own flesh.

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society… A mystic wrote that. Adjustment entails the so-called pakikisama to be made acceptable to prevailing norms, maybe standards. Multitudes crawling on beaten tracks and deep ruts set those standards that allow survival. Those who dare go beyond ‘em norms won’t belong.

Take it from Ambrose Bierce. “Abnormal, adj. Not conforming to standard. In matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be detested. Wherefore the lexicographer adviseth a striving toward the straiter [sic] resemblance of the Average Man than he hath to himself. Whoso attaineth thereto shall have peace, the prospect of death and the hope of Hell.”

In Clive Barker’s Son of Celluloid, the runaway piece of information that a cancer is outlived its brainless host as it fed on a diet of movie images. It had more ambitions and was more imaginative, so the cancer lived on, even forced itself on a woman and sired an offspring.

I’ve lost several friends to cancer. We haven’t any inkling what the hell it is. Yet.

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