For some years it has been known that there’s a close relationship between the body’s immune system and cancer. Recently, understanding has reached to the cellular and molecular level.
Cancerous tumours grow so vigorously because they’re able to switch off the auto-immune response that would normally combat unfamiliar cells found in the body. The tumour cells have a protein on their surface that binds with a compound on the surface of the cells that make up the advance guard of the immune system. The binding action turns off the defensive cells, allowing the tumour to flourish.
The new generation of drugs bind to those proteins on the tumour cells’ surface, stopping their interaction with the defensive cells. This enables the immune system to do its job and fight the cancer.
In effect, it is the body itself that can now fight the cancer. Professor Justin Stebbing, Consultant oncologist of London believes that in five years’ time immunotherapy will be the backbone of cancer treatment, rather than chemotherapy. It’s not a fix-all for every cancer, it seems; not the prayed-for magic bullet, and hopes should not be raised prematurely, but this research suggests that the fight against cancer will mean that thousands of sufferers will live longer and enjoy a high quality of life.
And maybe, ultimately, it’s all to do with our own bodies turning a switch. That’s a lengthy lead in to today’s short story, which was published in 2010 in the Costa TV Times.
PET scanner - Wikipedia commons(Jens Maus)
Alex Santini wished he wasn’t claustrophobic. It’s not as if he hadn’t been here before, either. Very much like a tunnel, he supposed. Maybe there’s hope now, light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m hungry, he thought, which isn’t surprising since I haven’t eaten in over six hours. Nerves, too, are having their effect. Mind over matter is the answer. Think thin. That’s one way to diet, though it probably doesn’t have a great deal of success.
It was only forty-five minutes ago - seems like ages - when Nurse Baker led him into the special preparation room. A radioactive substance created in a cyclotron was tagged to some glucose and injected into his bloodstream. She reassured him: ‘The intravenous injection’s just a slight pin-prick, Mr Santini, nothing to worry about.’
‘Fine. I’m not worried,’ he replied. In truth, worrying never cured anyone. Surgeons did, sometimes. Self-belief might. Faith often did.
Odd, knowing it’s coursing through your body, yet not feeling the radioactive substance. Will I glow in the dark? The radioactivity is supposed to be short-lived, so maybe not. Afterwards, he was supposed to drink lots of fluid to flush out the radioactivity. He speculated about his radioactive liquid waste - would it mutate the rats in the sewer system?
The injection was the easy bit, even though he didn’t like needles.
It’s the claustrophobia that he was really worried about.
The PET scanner looked like something out of a science fiction film, similar to a large doughnut. Doctor Richards told him all about it in an effort at calming his anxieties.
The Positron Emission Tomography scanner was made up of multiple rings of detectors that record the emission of energy from the radioactive substance in his body.
The cushioned examination table was comfortable enough, just like last time. Then he started to sweat as it slid into the hole in the doughnut. Although he couldn’t see them, he knew that images were being displayed on the computer monitor as he lay there. Pictures of my brain, he thought.
But was the tumour still there?
This was the final test.
Three months ago, they’d run a PET scan and found the small abnormal shape, about the size of the hole in a doughnut. The cause of his headaches.
‘Sorry, Mr Santini,’ the Doctor Richards had said, ‘but due to the site of the tumour, it’s inoperable.’
The fact of a tumour was bad enough, but to be told it couldn’t be removed was devastating. Alex’s head really ached then. They wouldn’t say how long he’d got. He could understand that. They could raise false hope or create premature despair if they were mistaken. When he got home, he radically changed his diet and drank lots of carrot juice. Over a few weeks, he purged all the toxins he’d fed into his body from coffee, tea and alcohol. Thoughts about closing stable doors crossed his mind but he dismissed them. He didn’t keep horses, anyway.
Then for six weeks Alex meditated, picturing the unwanted cells that had gone astray, visualising the tumour shrinking, not growing and not spreading. Eating itself.
The body is a remarkable creation, Alex thought, which is taken for granted until it malfunctions. It deserves to be taken care of, looked after. A balance, between the psychic and the physical aspects. A bit late in the day, he realised, but he devoutly believed that.
Now, as he waited for Doctor Richards to come out of his office with his diagnosis, Alex sat calmly sipping water from a bone china cup.
The door opened and the doctor came through, a frown on his face.
Think positive, Alex told himself. ‘Well, doctor, is the tumour worse or not?’
‘What tumour, Mr Santini?’
‘Pardon?’ Alex said.
Doctor Richards shook his head. ‘Our PET and CT scans have diagnosed thousands of patients and we’ve helped almost all of them, saving their lives. You’re the first I’ve known where the tumour has simply gone away.’
A massive wave of relief surged through Alex. ‘But you did save my life, doctor. If your PET machine hadn’t detected the tumour, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.’
‘Deal with it?’ Doctor Richards held his head to one side. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘I believe in mind over matter, doctor. Let’s be honest, we know that we only use a fraction of our brainpower. Just think, if we could utilise the unused portion, who knows what we’d be capable of accomplishing?’
Alex held up a hand to stall the doctor’s objections. ‘I know it isn’t taken seriously by scientists, but you have to agree that I’m living proof now that it can work.’ He smiled. ‘In fact, you could say that it’s become my pet project.’
Note: Since then it has been revealed that the urban myth that we only use 10% of our brains is a falsehood. That figure was probably plucked out of the air by early psychologists and subsequently made famous by Dale Carnegie’s 1936 self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It has been perpetuated by the self-improvement industry, since we all like to think we can better ourselves by expanding our minds. – Sources: Daily Mail/Barbara Sahaklan, Professor of clinical neuropsychology, University of Cambridge, and Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton University. Even so, individuals have been spontaneously cured of cancer and other ailments; maybe that’s positive thinking or mind over matter…
Tagged (above), copyright 2014, Nik Morton
My collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye. He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection, Crooked Cats’ Tales.
Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback for £4.99 ($6.99) and much less for the e-book versions – UK or COM.