CA = cancer

Our understanding of time breaks down at extremes. If the Big Bang happened, what came before it? And what, then, came before that?

We think time has a beginning and end because our lives have a beginning and end. Like most creatures on earth, our DNA comes with telomere caps, and as we run out of telomeres, our bodies age and die. However, if cellular regulation goes wrong, cancer cells can divide indefinitely and "live" forever, as HeLa cells do.

Ironically, DNA mutations that can lead to our demise also have the potential to make us immortal: in laboratory petri dishes across the world, in people's memories, through art and words.

There're a few things wrong with cancer cells, however.

They are anaplastic, having nonspecific appearances, so that under a microscope many different types of cancer look alike. Like cartoon characters with exaggerated eyes, they have giant nuclei. These cells have no function. They adhere loosely, break off, travel and spread (metastasize). They have no inhibition re: contact with other cells, divide rapidly or continuously, and have abnormal chromosomes. They are nonfunctional, Mike Wazowski versions of us, socializing, spawning and having weird babies everywhere.

I as caricature; I as clusters of frog eggs with rows of extra chromosomes; I zombie.

Like a zombie apocalypse, cancer develops in stages: initiation, promotion, and progression.

Only a single cancer cell in the beginning is needed for eventual full body metastasis. Just one little mutation, DNA transcription error, that, like a student draft, wasn't proofread properly, and wasn't popped wide open or digested by immune cells as it should have been, either.

On the other hand, Henrietta Lack's telomerase mutation saved countless lives and changed the world of medicine.

Immortality comes in unexpected ways. Sometimes it comes through seeing past the illusions, red dust, temporal and corporeal existence and entanglements. Sometimes it arises from a mistake.


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