Chapter 6: Exploration

Book 1: Beyond the Big Crunch – A text (book) for bioecology

An Autobiography of a Cancer Cell

Please note: material within the flower bracket in blue/red colour is the commentary

Chapter VI. Exploration (to conquer – know thy enemy first)

{To conquer cancer we should know its behaviour exactly. Way back in time, the entire malaria control program in India, was based on the observation that a mosquito sits on a wall after feeding on human blood. The other behaviour of the insect is to seek for a stagnant puddle of water nearby to breed.}

When we came across a flowing river I was surprised, being the first exposure to such an existence. It contained a whitish fluid flowing in one direction. {This is the lymphatic channel. After detaching from the main body of cancer, the cell infiltrates around and encounters the lymphatic channel through which it travels to the lymph nodes}. I took it as an opportunity to explore the same instead of skirting around it. I also thought that our travel would be easier in the flow of the river.

Hence I plunged into the white liquid. Then I realized that it was the best decision that I took. My travel was less strenuous now and I, along with my people floated along with the current. After some distance, we came across a narrow stream which had a structure that would open and close. This helped me to take a breather. We took this opportunity to leave behind a few members to settle down since the place was very congenial to inhabit. Additionally, we could always multiply and make up for the lessened number. {Valves in lymphatic channels keep the cancer cells in check for some time. Conversely, cancer cells which stick on to this wall, require to be killed or removed for effective treatment}.

I passed through several of such valves subsequently. At each place, a few of my family members decided to settle. Along the stream, we did encounter hostile forces now and then. We then either masked ourselves or overpowered them. In our track, we experienced an unusual feature where the river would start closing around us gradually and try to choke. I left the problem to my family members to handle, and I managed to push forward. I realized that I should not halt on any account. {There will be body reaction for the presence of some cancer cells in the lymphatic channels. It induces fibrosis in the wall of channels and it narrows and cuts off the spread for some time}

Just when I was expecting to be in for exciting moments to find out about the end of the stream, I came across another issue. However, by this time I was a veteran in encountering and overcoming problems. Suddenly, the flow opened into a big recess {lymphatic channels open into the lymph nodes. First, the lymph flows into the area below the capsule and not to the centre of the lymph nodes}. When I entered the recess and tried to circumnavigate, I encountered the same situation that I faced earlier when we broke the barrier long time back. Ahead of me was a factory where law enforcers were produced and lodged. Now after many years I came face to face with the truth of the origins of these law enforcers.

The factory was a beehive of activity. Overlooking the valley I could see only the law enforcers and literally nobody else. It was their manufacturing unit; it was their secret weapon. I now finally came face to face with the most deciding time of my life. I had come to the origin, the powerhouse and the place of ultimate battle. I knew that I have come to a do-or-die situation in my life, perhaps the concluding barrier. {Lymph nodes are the important barriers for the cancer cells. The cells that fight cancer and infection are produced and “powered” in the nodes. Usually, during surgery these nodes are also removed, when they are likely to be infested with cancer cells}

Nevertheless, I did not rush. I settled down and decided to prepare for the final decisive battle.  At first, there was a need to increase the number of fighters on my side. I multiplied furiously, having skirmishes with the law enforcers who kept on drifting into my area. It may be that the enforcers got an inkling that we are around and about to launch an attack. Slowly the recess got filled up with my family and I was ready to overtake the industrial unit. One fine day I launched the attack, knowing that bloody fight was ahead. All hell broke loose.

Nonetheless, I was surprised to find that, the ferociousness was lost in my enemies’ defence. Individually they were not the same powerful agents I had encountered in the earlier part of my life, or had I grown stronger? Even as a group they were not as coordinated, as if their zest in life had waned. {If the body immunity is high, then cancer may stop at this stage for a long time. However, a bad lifestyle can affect the immunity cells of the body like Natural Killer (NK) cells and they may slowly lose out for invading cancer cells}. Slowly, but surely I overcame this resistance and started the mopping action. Over a period of time, we completely occupied the entire place and determinedly won the decisive battle. However, there was a great wall around the place and I started exploring the possibility of breaching this wall {Capsule encasing the lymph node}. I was quite used to this pattern of fight with the law enforcers and barriers but the present new thing was a great wall around confining us. I explored the area for an easy exit. 

And, finally, I found it. On the other side of the factory was an outlet which continued as a tributary {these are the afferent vessels of the lymphatic system. Often cancer spreads from one level of lymph nodes to the other level in a stepwise fashion}. I took this road with a few of my people and left the rest to guard the rear in the factory along with additional responsibility of breaking the walled enclosure {over a period of time, cancer cells might break this capsule of the node and spread around the node}. The journey was a lot smoother now since the river was wider. I could feel the growing power in me with every encounter on the way.

Well, surprises never cease in life. Things were smooth one moment and the next moment I was thrown into a brown coloured river. {Finally lymphatic channels join together and form a duct which opens into the vena cava – venous system carrying the blood from different organs to the right side of the heart having dark blood, in the region of lower neck}.  It was so turbulent, compared to the smooth sail in the white river, that even the enforcers could not do anything but just watch. Behold! The surprise of surprises awaited me here. I could see some of the family members whom I had left in the colony. We hugged each other and rejoiced the reunion. 

Later, I got their story, the excitement of which I sorely missed. They, who travelled in another direction, came across another type of river where the brown fluid flowed. They squeezed themselves through a narrow opening and entered the river {Cancer cells can also directly invade the capillaries and enter vena cava of the venous system}. The current just swept them away. They were as delighted to see me as much as I was. Well with renewed vigour we continued our travel. I was informed that millions of my breed were ahead of us and we fancied a rousing reception at the end of the river.  Now the travel was not in months but within minutes we arrived at a dock. {From the right side of the heart blood is pumped into the lungs for the purpose of oxygenation. The cancer cells arrive in the lungs. The blood from the stomach and intestines come first to the liver and that may be the organ that could be first involved. This is the stage of metastases.}

The rush of the river was intense and approach to the dock was intensely guarded by the law enforcers. Some of my friends perished and fell for the attack. {Not all the cancer cells which enter the blood survive. Millions died due to the hostile environment in another organ and the inability to stick to the surface of capillaries due to fast and turbulent flow of the blood. Body and organ immunity plays an important part, for example, the spleen is spared of metastases in many cancers}.  I hid below the platform and bided my time. I had evolved a technique of developing sticky substance from my body and using that adherent, I slowly climbed on to the slippery raised area which was very hostile for my stay. Injured and exhausted I fell into a niche and was oblivious for a long time. I gathered my strength slowly over weeks and nursed myself. I realized that my survival depended on evading the law and surging forward. Within the niche, I found a way leading into the depth and squeezed myself to the limit come what may. Finally, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and exited through it. {Ironically this is the entry of a cancer cell into a lung or liver}.

No wonder journey to an unknown area carries the most unexpected things. The scene now was totally alien and absolutely hostile. Leave alone the rousing reception; I could not site even a single cell of my kind. All my mates who had travelled ahead of me and with me had obviously perished. I was the lone survivor. Now I have begun to believe truly that I must be really the chosen one.

I was able to perceive something else. I got signals through the brown river, the products of my colony. This obviously meant that my colony has survived and was growing because the signals started increasing {Cancer Cells produce certain chemical substances to communicate, to suppress the immune cells of the body and sometimes have peculiar effects on the body – paraneoplastic syndromes. These substances circulate through the normal blood vessels}. Also, from the embankment I could watch thousands of my friends being swept by the river, unable to get a beachhead on to the dock. I could not help any of them, since the bank was well guarded and I was unable to stand on it without falling to the river and perishing. However, they helped in sapping the energy of the law. I also detected that the colony sent some chemical products which drained the energy of the enforcers and suppressed them.

I sent a message to my colony about the odds against which I survived. To my surprise, within minutes I got the message back from them of their relief and support to go ahead. Well, it was time to rebuild my family in the new place. I was assisted by a whiff of chemical smoke now and then, and small amounts of poisons continued to flow. Additionally, good substances continued to dwindle for the enemies {Spread of cancer is assisted by wrong lifestyle. It is not only about the harmful substances that we consume, but also the lack of vitamins and fibre diet that deprive the power of normal and immunity cells.}

I was now well experienced and the journey had hardened me further. Slowly and surely, my influence continued to expand and I kept constantly in touch with the colony. By now, my tribe and I were flourishing and going places. {This is the stage where cancer is well established in the body.}

Conversely, instead of getting elated, I felt uneasy. The creatures who followed rules and who were my challengers all the while were looking sick. Not some of them, but all of them. Something unusual was happening and one day I detected a strong steel rod passing through my neighbourhood {Investigative procedure of biopsy}. And, another day some unusual vibrations struck me and my surroundings trembled. Also, a funny fluid came around me and when I swallowed it, I brimmed with glow for a couple of days (say PET-CT scan}.  Yet another day there was a strong unseen current which twirled me around several times and pinned me down simultaneously {MRI test}. Premonition warned me of the impending big fight.  It was the time to develop some inner vision. {Sometimes cancer is diagnosed in stage when it has spread to the rest of the body. However, with awareness developing, nowadays more and more people are getting diagnosed at an early stage when the cancer is still confined to the site of origin.}