Toxin for Time?

Mom: Why do I feel good?

Oncologist: We stopped giving you poison.


Humans are occasionally described as "walking and talking chemistry experiments" and so it makes sense that cancer itself as well as our valiant attempts to stop it are ultimately microscopic wars waged between several major fighting groups of chemical compounds. On the good team are the healthy cells and chemical processes that form the essence of life itself. On Team Evil are aberrant cancer cells whose chemical routines have short-circuited and are bound in an obsessive and endless quest to duplicate themselves––like a copy machine that won't stop spitting out new copies and yet can't be unplugged.

So it's only logical that we would eventually join the fight in this cellular level warfare having stumbled onto our own medical chemistry set starting with Mustard Gas in World War II. Or more bluntly...with poison.

Of course, the goal is to wage war exclusively on Team Evil's cells and avoid friendly fire on our allies, the good cells. In practice, it often does not work out so neatly. Both sides take massive casualties if for no other reason than many of our medical poisons––more soothingly referred to as chemotheraphy drugs––are more akin to bombs than rifles. If you choose to be treated with them, you essentially agree to make yourself sicker than you already were to begin with, at least temporarily. Worse yet, they are applied without any real guarantee you will be cured since predicting outcomes with many of these drugs falls into the mushy realm of statistics and probabilities.

As in a typical American Civil War battle where each side lined up only a few yards opposite the other and indiscriminately blasted away––creating massive and fairly evenly divided slaughter––the cellular battlefields we call tumors also end up littered with casualties from all sides. As a fighting force, the ultimate victor comes away bloodied, decimated and slow to recover. If our patient is fortunate, the massacre leaves more good than bad cells and the body is able to survive and perhaps even continue the fight on its own. If our patient is not so fortunate, Team Evil may be dealt a setback of sorts, but is able to retreat and recover to attack and fight another day. When this happens, physicians refer to it as recurrence. For cancer patients and their families, it is surely the most dreaded word in the English language. 

For each time the word "recurrence" is uttered, we are again forced to consider chemotherapy's fundamental Faustian bargain: Quality of Life versus Quantity of Time Remaining. 

In other words, do you want to poison yourself again and possibly live longer or surrender the war and accept the consequences?

Or, more succinctly...toxin for time