Because I've been working full time as a professional magician for the last 50 years, you might imagine that it would take a lot to amaze me. The truth is that by developing a sense of wonder about the workings of the world in my youth, I've always been astonished by what seems to be the "real magic" that appears everywhere we choose to look; and not just the world outside, but the world inside of us, too.
The biology of the human body has revealed a treasure trove of cellular discoveries in recent years. And it's through scientific inquiry that all of these wonders have been made available to the rest of us. But the science of cancer is daunting at best, so we are left to ask the experts to become our interpreters. As we become advocates for our own health and healing, we can also awaken to the subtle but insightful communications from our own bodies. And it seems that we can learn a lot about our own state of health by just listening to those sometimes quiet and sometimes thunderous communications.
Derived from the Greek words "bios" (life) and "logos" (study), biology is the science of life. Biologists study the structure, function, growth, origin, evolution and distribution of living organisms, according to Live Science.
On June 26, 2000, two geneticists, Craig Venter and Francis Collins, triumphantly announced that the research teams they headed had completed the first survey of the three billion base pairs of DNA that make up the human genome. We know now that if a human being's DNA were uncoiled, it would stretch 10 billion miles, from Earth to Pluto and back. That's magic.
But on a more obvious level of interpersonal communication, our bodies are constantly sending messages to us via our temperature, pulse, respiration, chemical signals, hunger, anxiety, fatigue, sleep patterns and more.
Many of us counteract those signals by having a cup of coffee, a glass of beer, an ibuprofen or a walk in the park. The list goes on forever. Unfortunately, those messages, especially when ignored, can present a disheartening conclusion when a disease, such as cancer, arises.
Those of us with an active case of cancer have a different dilemma to consider. We can at times over-react to those messages. For example, a muscle pull in my left shoulder from a rigorous game of tennis may be way too close to that mastectomy scar in my chest, perhaps giving me a false signal that something more sinister is afoot. Is that another tumor?
As cancer survivors, most any undefined pain can potentially trigger the thought of a return of our disease. The irony here is that we really do have to pay special attention to our bodily messages post cancer. On the other hand, to rush in for a chest X-ray or MRI with each passing pain would make no sense.
The key is in learning to read our own body language. This remarkable organic machine we call our body is wiser and stronger and more reliable than any of those negative thoughts we conjure up. And it seems to me that this dependable living machine is speaking to us constantly.
Three months before my diagnosis of male breast cancer I mentioned to my wife that I felt a distinct and uncanny body-wide inflammation that I couldn't pinpoint. It was something I had never felt before and there was no relation that I could find that had any connection with my life style. I was living in Hawaii, sitting in meditation daily, running and hiking, a vegetarian and quite happy to be alive.
But it was that very unfamiliar "inflammatory feeling" that got me in for my first doctor visit in several years. I was diagnosed with cancer a week later. So how do we tune in to the real messages as opposed to the false alarms that send signals to us day in and day out? It seems we need to become our own translators while learning to interpret our personal vocabulary. While sitting in meditation these days, I often place a hand on my mastectomy scar. I feel the life-force pulsing through my body. I thank this old body of mine for supporting me for all of these years. And I pause for a moment or two as I marvel at the astonishing magic that exists in each and every one of us.
If all goes well, my heart will beat more than 3 billion times during my life here on Earth. And even if cancer chooses another number for me, I can still be grateful for the 4,200 heartbeats I just received while writing this essay.