The Crux of Cancer


For more than three years now I have sumo wrestled with the Emperor of all Maladies, each of us trying to throw the other out of the ring. (At 145 pounds I may be in the wrong sport but, hey, I’m feisty.) Our next honbasho starts on Jan. 12.

Here are five things I’ve learned about my foe:

Cancer is an accumulation of accidental cellular events that conspire to take down the whole system, slowly building momentum over the years until it reaches a tipping point and then cascades out of control toward the grave.

Cancer can take decades to mature, during which the initial mutation is augmented by other random genetic changes, fueled by carcinogens in our food and environment and super-charged by stress.

Cancer is born in, and borne along by, the genes, as Dr. Mukherjee points out: “Abnormal genes governed all aspects of cancer’s behavior. Cascades of aberrant signals, originating in mutated genes, fanned out within the cancer cell, promoting survival, accelerating growth, enabling mobility, recruiting blood vessels, enhancing nourishment, drawing oxygen—sustaining cancer’s life.”

Cancer hijacks the body’s normal processes to its own narcissistic ends. There’s nothing extraneous about cancer. It doesn’t invent new proteins or pathways but exploits existing ones, like mitosis and motility, while overriding built-in safeguards like apoptosis and tumor-suppressor genes.

Cancer has vulnerabilities; it can be beaten—or at least beaten back for several years—by a combination of healthy habits and medical treatments. My seven-fold strategy includes: a positive attitude, a sense of humor, a plant-based diet, targeted intervention (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy), submissive prayer, a focus on others, and the loving support of family and friends.

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