Friday, 18 December 2009

750 - Loving Cancer

Four and a half years ago I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. So now when I walk a tightrope I carry a marble in my right hand.

There's cancer in my family history too. More serious stuff. Sometimes I mull, on both accounts, because it makes good sense to mull. I don't think that's hyperchondria, just provisional planning.

Given my spirituality, which is that everything is interconnected, and everything is love, I've been wondering how to love cancer. Mine, and the stuff in general. What works, I think, is this.

I know it's usual to think of myself as a discrete (meaning separate) being. We speciate, over millenia, become unique and unmingleable creatures. We also speciate within ourselves: stem-cells become bone-cells or neurons or blood-cells, which occupy a particular niche in the body, and no other. Geoffrey Miller, in Spent, introduces this thought eloquently. He's far less than convinced that we speciate psychologically, developing personality traits that equip us for particular roles, which are not, then, readily transferable to other cultural or biological situations. However, insofar as it doesn't make sense to be a wise man at fifteen, or a flirt at a funeral, and insofar as there are distinct personality dimensions which vary, admittedly on a bell-curve, from person to person, I think that a case could be made for this, too.

Cancer is about cells mutating to do what they are not equipped to do (chiefly to grow, unstoppably). Cancer cells breakdance when they should be brokering deals. They offend our sense that we are sacrosanct, every cell with a purpose, every intrusion guarded against.

But there's enough biology out here to argue the opposite. Endosymbiotic theory, for example, argues that our cells contain fragments of viruses and other living matter: our mitochondria existed as creatures in their own right before our distant ancestor cells absorbed or were invaded by them. Now they power our cells. As fast as we consolidate our uniqueness from other creatures by breeding amongst ourselves, random mutation and other environmental factors acting upon us compel new variations of form. These have resulted in our present appearance, but biologists say our present appearance is far from perfect, inevitable, or 'finished'. Psychologically, culturally, our world shifts and blends, sharing words and ideas: that's what culture means.

I feel my spirituality has to embrace this, and if it does, I can no longer make the blanket declaration that I, in pristine form, am unintrudable upon, or that mutation is, by definition, bad. If it's all natural, in a loving world, then it's all loving.

There is a force to this, to drive me from complacency. But in this sense it is the drive from innocence to experience to, as mystics call it, second innocence. I am forced beyond the limits of my body to consider greater permeability, greater interconnectedness. Physically, I lose a part of myself, perhaps, but that part feeds a bacterium that feeds, or acts upon, the environment near it, and the food-chain is recharged (my ball entering a food-chain is admittedly a bit icky). Or psychologically, my surgeon gains self-esteem, a lift which augurs well for his or her family's well-being. Why not consider this a result of the cancer? If it is not accounted for, of course all that remains to be said is bad press. It depends where you draw your lines, and I draw wider lines now than I did before.

The interconnectedness feeds in the other direction, too. If illness can raise a medical institution (I've been well-served by the Northern Cancer Care Trust), it is also true that an institution can raise an illness, as builders and engineers with asbestosis testify. And finally, that institutions can become cancerous (mentioning, in one instance, no financial names, and, by implication, demanding of myself that perhaps the bankers are not morally reprehensible, and doing no more than their brief part in our vast cosmological interconnection.)

I've rambled. Better get back on the tightrope.

1 comment:

hectoria said...

A beautiful post Steve.And if everything is connected we can then join our vulnerability , our gentleness & our strenghth together in the days to come.Especially important as we move into Christmas time with its happy and poignant memories.