Cancer: The Selfish Cell (Part 3)
Cancer Cells, Healthy Cells: Spirit, Society, and Reality
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a condition in the body where our own cells no longer do their assigned roles (ie, be a liver cell, a colon cell, or a lung cell). Instead, these cancer cells just start selfishly hogging nutrients, fooling nearby cells into helping them, keep multiplying, and eventually destroy the body.
The organs in our bodies have a constructively competitive relationship with each other. The brain competes for blood against all other organs, for example. All in all, the body manages most of the time to regulate things for the good of the whole. Cancer cells, in contrast, are destructively competitive. That is, they compete, but they play a zero sum game where if they win, everyone else (the rest of the body) loses.
What is the relationship of the disease of cancer to what we see today in our society? Gangs, (and also terrorists), recruit members, expand their territories, and dispose of enemies with a violence that cares not how many might die.In big business, such as in the field
of what some have called Big Medicine or Big Pharma, there are widely known corporate scandals that point to powerful individuals who choose to work for personal gain above anything else, sacrificing ethics, employees, the environment, and sometimes even the company, leaving cities and employees devastated with losses.
Does all this sound like cancer?
The first cancer cell used to be a normal cell. Just as a cancerous lung cell "forgets" that it was supposed to be helping the body, so the "fallen" politician or corporate executive forgets that he or she was supposed to help the people of the country, instead of consolidating power at the expense of others. Just as cancer cells seek to merely eat well and multiply, the same desciption applies here, whether it is cancer or corrupt people -- they multiply by dragging their children and others nearby into the exaltation of self-centeredness and arrogance and oppression. This describes how cancer cells multiply and form tumors. The moment we decide that our needs are more important than anyone else's, that our good must be insured even at others' expense, then we have become a cancer.
What can be done? The current way of fighting cancer is to cut it out, (along with surrounding healthy tissues), and destroy it, then flood the body with toxic chemicals or radiation. The social equivalent can be seen as police action, war, prisons, and execution. We all pay a heavy price for staying blindly loyal to this approach to cancer. This is very expensive to our economic milieu. CBS "60 Minutes" recently did a segment on the high cost of cancer drugs, and how these are bankrupting patients and families as well as our health care system. The situation is so out of hand that renowned oncologists have started labeling a side effect of these medications "financial toxicity." That's because the exorbitant prices are becoming a leading cause of personal bankruptcy for cancer patients. Keep in mind that relatively few of the new medicines actually cure cancer. Many of the drugs that cost over $10,000 a month extend life only a little bit longer than older cancer medications. Is there a better way, a less violent way? A higher way?
The social lesson of cancer, a lesson that will likely take many years to become a reality in our society, is that all life is interconnected. The entire body suffers when one member suffers.
To quote the author of the book, "The Selfish Cell": "Can we see that viewing others through love, through the eyes of God, unifies all of us into one body?" The best preventative, the best medicine, the best cure for the cancer of the world is love. It is in the giving that we turn ourselves away from becoming a cancer, and help others do the same. "The key is to give, rather than get. Then we become a network of healthy cells.... and just as a person who is freed from cancer discovers health and energy and is given a new lease on life... imagine what a cancer-free, loving, giving world would be like?"
"Only love lets us see progressively higher: the cells unified into organs, the organs unified into people, people unified into societies, and all creation unified in God. If we choose love."
" Then we become a network of healthy cells,... and the body becomes stronger and healthier."
I know that this sounds very "pie in the sky," very idealistic, but we have to start somewhere.
The Role of Community in Cancer Treatment
It has been my lifelong dream to be part of an organization of collaborative people and communities who embodied this love, this principle of service. Because of the rise in cancer drug costs (see the recent CBS "60 Minutes" segment, called "The Eye Popping Cost of Cancer Drugs") it is time that all of us take a close look at this rise, and evaluate what we can do in the face of this significant financial stress. The producer of this segment made this statement: "The first thing I never really thought about was how expensive cancer drugs are. Secondly, I never knew that for many oncologists, when they prescribe cancer drugs, they actually get a commission."
While there are some types of cancer drugs that can be helpful in treating cancer, the real issue here is how to treat a patient with a cancer effectively. And this is not really possible unless we incorporate the principles and practice of integrative oncology. As many of you know through experience or having read material on this, integrative oncology is a growing field. It embodies a wide range of therapeutic approaches, including food, supplements, IV therapies of many types, and stress reduction or mindfulness therapies.
It may be that we in local communities may have to collaborate to promote the growth and development of integrative cancer medicine. What would this type of collaborative transformation look like?
What are the elements of this transformation?
1. A tolerant, open-minded, and flexible way of thinking about cancer, in developing effective treatment plans for people with a cancer. This milieu does not now exist in the field of modern oncology. We have to create it together.
2. A community that embodies the spirit of love and connectedness as antidotes to the individual and social cancers of our times.
This could involve the formation of a local Integrative Cancer Collaboration. This can and ought to include local supportive practitioners, Farmer's Markets, local organic and healthy restaurants and health food stores, local healthy motels for people who come from out of town, and also local medical doctors who are willing to become a part of such a Colalboration, and are willing to help support their patients in healing their cancers, even if this means supporting therapies that are not approved by major corporate cancer organizations.
3. An economic form that embodies brotherhood in the truest sense of this word. The time to act is now, to establish other forms of paying for cancer therapies that can work well, and simultaneously be interfacing well with the world of modern medicine. This is especially important for people on Medicare, especially when lab tests and scans are needed, and when specific drugs might be indicated in a particular cancer patient.
These three aspects embody the basic elements around which this country was founded: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and that are part of what underlies our recent celebration of this country's Independence Day.
Our collective and collaborative goal needs to be to help people with cancer on their road towards healing. It is also, by the relationship of cancer to our social and cultural ills, a pathway to an embodiment of effective approaches to the healing of cancers. This is how love becomes an active healing force in each of us and in a community.
Robert Zieve, M.D.