— Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Since my diagnosis and treatment(s), I’ve become obsessed with reading about breast cancer as well as cancer, in general. As a layman, I find most of what I’m reading goes right over my head, and often I find I can only grasp about 25% of what I read but….the more I read, the more things sink in, so I’m going to stick with it.
It seems to me that the most important and valuable new cancer research is being done in the area of genetics. There’s a new story in Bloomberg Businessweek about “epigenetics” research being conducted, which scientists believe may help identify when breast cancer will spread. Of course, that’s one of the scariest things to deal with when you find you have breast cancer, whether or not it will, or has already spread to other organs in your body. And, according to my oncologist, it may not show up in the blood work they now conduct on me every quarter, and in fact, the primary way they would actually notice if my BC had spread was if I showed any physical manifestation such as achiness, swelling or pain. Well. As we all know, once cancer gets to that point, it’s probably pretty far along, well beyond Stage 1 or 2. And now that I’ve gone through all that chemo and the surgeries, I sure don’t like the notion that something could still be growing in my system, and there’s really no testing they can do to find it, unless it becomes more obvious.
This new research apparently helps identify how aggressive a particular cancer is, and whether or not it is likely to mestastasize. Apparently they’ve identified two varieties of what scientists call “epigenetic signatures” which seem to distinguish more aggressive cancers from less aggressive ones. Click here to read the entire article.
The next is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, another work of non-fiction that reads like a compelling novel. Henrietta Lacks was an African American mother of five, from Baltimore, MD who died at the age of 30 from a particularly virulent form of cervical cancer. Cells from her tumor were taken without her, or her families consent, and recreated in medical labs all over the world to be used in medical testing and research that has helped almost every type of breakthrough in modern medical history – from polio vaccines and cancer research to cloning, gene testing, etc. for the past 60 years. And no one ever asked or received permission from her family.
Henrietta’s cells were named Hela, and apparently Hela cells were and are still being used, by almost anyone involved in any type of cellular research. I feel this odd relationship to her, because I am quite sure that the Chemotherapy protocol that I went through was undoubtedly generated by research done using Hela cells. So in many ways, I owe her my life.
I’m still not really sure where all of this reading and research will lead me, but I’m fascinated by cancer and have decided to “take it on” the way I like to take on any subject I’m highly interested and intrigued by (like my past obsessions with Africa colonialism and China’s history) so will be doing a lot of reading and researching. I have a vested interest. I have a 15 year old daughter, and I certainly don’t want her to have to go through any of this when she gets older.