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Additional Notes - Why We May Never Cure Cancer

In my first year of college we learned about the DNA, its replication and fixing mechanisms. When you talk about problems in these mechanisms, one of the first things you mention is cancer and I got to learn a few basic points about cancer - mainly, the fact that it is a disease derived from mutations. The idea that this disease comes from probably the most basic part of our being seemed intriguing to me. Before that, I had no knowledge of the mechanisms of cancer, or how we treat it. I had heard about radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but I had no idea what they were designed to do.

My aim with this article was to try and explain how cancer works in our body, and what makes it complicated to treat. I saw this as an opportunity to learn about the methods we use to treat cancer, how effective are they and find out about new developments in the field. I knew that  there’s a lot to read about cancer, even if you don’t plan to cover half of it, so I decided let my research last for as long as it needed. This quickly ended up as the subject I researched the most. I feel like I have covered most of the basics about this disease. The overall conclusion I got from all of this is that we’re slowly getting better at treating cancer and helping cancer patients deal with the disease. All in all, this has left me optimistic.

At first, I did not know what exactly I wanted the article to be about - what areas of this subject I wanted to tackle. I started writing this article as if I’m going to cover a bit of everything I read. The first draft became a 6,000 words essay, with many of its parts connected only vaguely. I rearranged and rewrote a few of the parts to try and decide what was important and what I could let go. Eventually, I broke down all of my ideas to Ami, and she helped me decide to just focus on the few bits that are in the article. Some of the parts that I decided to drop are definitely interesting, but they’re not what attracted me to write this article in the first place. To me this article has definitely been an exercise in focusing on a specific question and separating the wheat from the chaff.

There are two more points that I wanted to talk about.

The first one is radiation from cell phones. Every once in a while this subject pops back up. Can radiation from cell phones lead to cancer? Is it dangerous? As far as I’ve read, every research that addresses this question shows that it is not dangerous and will not cause cancer. Still, you cannot be too safe and so warnings are printed on the boxes and booklets of cellular devices. I think that the closest thing to a proof that these devices are not dangerous is somewhat evident in the numbers. In the last few decades, we have gone from a world with absolutely no cellular devices (and the radiation they entail), to a world that is simply full of them. Everyone has a cellular phone these days, from young kids to the elderly. They are either in every pocket or in our hands. I now wonder if people still sometimes carry their phones in holsters on their belts. We regularly bring them close to our heads, when we use them as actual phones. Even when you forget your phone at home and have to spend a few hours detached from it, you’re surrounded by the phones of your peers. You would expect to see a rise in the number of cancer cases that would represent this sudden increase in radiation, but there is no evidence of it whatsoever. Even if there’s a lag between the onset of radiation and the appearance of a tumor, we would have seen something by now. In an unrelated manner, evidence is beginning to point at a higher risk of melanoma caused by the use of tanning beds.

Let’s now talk about cancer in remains of ancient people. Cancer rates are increased these days because people live longer, and thus the chances of cancer development are greater, but if cancer existed for who knows how long, is there evidence in fossilised bodies? In short, yes but it’s rare to find anything. The simple explanation is that cancerous tumors usually occur in soft tissues that disintegrate quickly and so the evidence do not last long. Evidence of cancer that occurred in or affected the bones may survive through time, but this is somewhat rare and you would have to test thousands of fossilised bones in order to find evidence of. To ‘dig’ deeper into this, I recommend reading ‘Unearthing Prehistoric Tumors, and Debate’, a fascinating article by George Johnson, from 2010.

To read about new developments in the field, you can check out the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 13th Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer. It really helped me with a lot of information that I needed for the article. This features a lot of updated information from a few angles and I found it quite encouraging, really. Some of it is in medicalese, but it’s still a very good read.

Thank you for reading!

Daphne Semus CyprusComment
What I Call 'Close Enough'

Here’s a short anecdote: a few years ago, my family and I were traveling. We just landed in an airport somewhere in Austria, if I remember correctly, and we went through the process of getting into the country. Everything was going smoothly and we arrived at that conveyor belt carousel that you get your luggage off. As usual, this stage of the process took a bit of time and we waited for all the luggage to be brought from the plain. Everyone was tired from traveling and quietly staring at the carousel, waiting for the belt to move.

For no specific reason, I turned to my mom, and said just loud enough so my brothers could hear: ‘I’m willing to bet you anything that my bag will be the first to come out on that conveyor belt’. Obviously, I had no reason to believe that, but on the off-chance that my blue, medium sized bag would appear first...

Suddenly, we were waiting intently for the belt to start moving. No one had real stakes in this pseudo-wager but we were all in on it. Then, the carousel creaked alive. Now all of our eyes were focused on that little flappy curtain that blocks the view to the side where the suitcases are being loaded on the carousel. We waited. Then, the curtain was disturbed. Something was coming through. My family was never as tense about something so marginal. Everyone wanted it to be my blue bag, but… alas, it was this huge, gigantic black suitcase. In a second, the excitement was gone. That is until the big black suitcase got to the first curve, rotated a bit and we could see that my blue, smallish bag was right there, leaning on it.

I said that my bag would come out first, before any other luggage. I did not get it right, but god darn it, that is what I call ‘close enough’. 

I told you that story to tell you this one: Ami and I are finishing college in a couple of weeks. We’re starting a new period in our lives and we spent the last couple of weeks looking for a new apartment. Ami, bless her heart, joined a bunch of apartment hunters’ facebook groups (the horror…) and gathered information about a bunch of potential places. One afternoon, we were going over all of these places, trying to decide which have better chances to fit our humble needs and filtering out those that are either over our head or don't meet our requirements.

After comparing a few apartments, for no specific reason, I half-jokingly said to Ami ‘none of this comparing really matters, you know. We are simply going to take the first apartment we see’. Obviously, I had no reason to believe that, but on the off-chance that the first apartment we visited was perfect…

We made a few appointments to see some apartments in an area we liked. I don’t know if Ami felt this way, but when we drove over to see the first one, I felt tense. What if I was right in saying that we would simply take the first apartment we checked? I wanted this apartment to be perfect.

The first apartment we saw had potential. It’s in a perfect location, nice neighborhood, ten minutes away from anything we might need, not far from where some of our friends live. But… the apartment was noticeably old, it’s had a funny room in the middle of it with two doors and no windows; it was not great and we decided not to pick this one.

We saw a few other apartments, none of which were perfect fits either. I forgot that I even said anything about taking the first apartment we saw. One of the first appointments we have made was at an apartment in the same building as the first one, about a week later. The first apartment was on the first floor and this one on the third. It was quite a bit more expensive, so more than we expected to find a good apartment, we just wanted to see why the price was higher.

We entered the apartment and it was simply perfect. Spacious, well designed and brand new. It didn't have any funny rooms or anything. It turns out that this building used to be two-floors high, but then they added a third and fourth floor a couple of years ago. This apartment had all the upsides of the one below it and quite a few more. We both felt at home.

We just signed the contract for that apartment.

I said that we would get the first apartment we saw. I did not get it right, but god darn it, that is what I call ‘close enough’.


This is what I have to live with.


Anyway, we now hope to not find out about a noisy neighbor or anything that might ruin this for us.

Thanks for reading!


Additional Notes - The Platypus Paradox

Original article - The Platypus Paradox.

The platypus was mentioned in one of the first lectures I attended in college. I don’t remember what was the context, but it was presented, as it usually is, as a marvelous mixture of animals. I found it amusing and took a mental note to read up about this subject one day. I don’t believe that anyone can look at this animal and not find it, at least, charming.

When I started my research on the Ornithorhynchus I remembered only that it was remarkable for being an egg-laying mammal. In the back of my head, I remembered that it might be venomous, as well. Naturally, these were the first points I looked up. Then, I found that the rabbit’s hole (or platypus’ burrow) goes way deeper than I could have guessed. Every bit of information I came across seemed unexpected. And whenever I thought that it was going to end, something new popped up. This little creature kept surprising me. When I first saw a picture of it, I thought its expression was of simple, happy carelessness. Now I feel as if it is wearing a poker face that means ‘you don’t know me’. Anyway, here’s some extra information about these little guys.

The platypuses probably don’t care about what we call them, but I have to mention this: many people believe that the plural of Platypus is Platypi. I agree that it’s a very fun word to say, but unfortunately, it is not correct. This form of pluralization works for Latin words, but the word platypus originates from Greek. There is no one agreed upon plural of platypus, and so it would usually either be platypodes, the correct Greek pluralization, or simply Platypuses. In my opinion, the Platypi form might be too ingrained and will simply become the correct form over time.

When I read about the platypus and its reproduction methods, I imagined its eggs to be similar to those of a chicken. I soon found out that I was wrong. A chicken egg is formed within the chicken in a period of a day and is externally incubated for 21 days or so. Also, the shell of a chicken egg hardens around a fully formed egg, which will not change in size. In contrast, the platypus egg is formed within the platypus in a period of 28 days, and then externally incubated for 10 days or so. The platypus egg increases in size and somewhat changes structurally before it is laid. It starts at 4 millimeters in diameter, in the shape of a sphere, and it grows to be around 16 millimeters and more elliptical.

The first preserved platypus has reached Europe in 1798, but it has taken years and years until a live one has set foot outside of Australia or Tasmania. At the early years of the 20th century, Henry Burrell, an Australian naturalist, has tried to raise platypuses in captivity. These creatures are hard to keep, as they are very sensitive to changes in conditions and require a surprising amount of food. Towards that goal, Burrell has designed the first artificial habitat. He called it a ‘Platypusary’ - a platypus nursery. With a functioning platypusary available, in 1922 he sent five male platypuses to America. Only one of these has survived the trip and became the first live platypus to be seen in America or Europe.

Two decades later, Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom, has discovered a great interest in the platypus. In 1943, while still immersed in World War II, he has contacted John Curtin, the Australian Prime minister, with a request for six live platypuses. By that time, no living platypus has yet arrived in Europe, but Churchill was a big fan of Australian animals - he had six black swans, who originate from Australia, as well. David Fleay, an Australian naturalist, has agreed to catch just one platypus for Churchill. He did and he even named it Winston. Winston the platypus was sent by ship to the UK. Unfortunately, along the way, the ship has encountered an enemy submarine. The ship has survived the encounter by releasing depth charges to fight off the submarine, but the shock from the detonations was probably too much for Winston the platypus, who died en route. Winston was later mounted and placed on Churchill’s office desk.

The platypus, which normally reaches a size of 40-50 centimeters, is the only living member of its family. In 2012, a fossilized tooth was discovered and is thought to be the tooth of a bigger brother of the platypus - Obdurodon tharalkooschild. Imagine, alligator-like giant platypi roaming in eastern Australia. I’m kidding, though, because the obdurodon grew to be double the size of today’s platypus, at close to a meter long. That is pretty big, but I don’t know if I would call it a giant. You can read more about its discovery right here.

For more detailed stories about the platypus and everything that relates to it, I would recommend the book Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World. I enjoyed the way it tells the story of the platypus. It portrays the confusion that followed wherever the platypus was taken in an interesting way.

Thanks for reading!


Daphne Semus Cyprus