Cancer and the Butterfly Effect


Reflecting on World Cancer Day got me thinking about butterflies, a symbol of hope, but, according to the “Butterfly Effect” theory, a small flap of their wings could have major impacts on the world, which is not very different from cancer.

With World Cancer Day coming up I was thinking about creating a coloring page associated with the day. But after giving it some serious thought, I decided against it. Afterall, the visitors to this site are probably already acutely aware of cancer. They surely don’t need an art activity reminding them that there’s yet another day designated to raising cancer awareness.

Butterfly drawing by Mark Hicks

Just drag and drop this image of a butterfly onto your desktop to save and print. Or use your print app on your mobile device.

The Butterfly Effect is the theory that a trivial happening may ultimately result in an event of significant consequence. The popular idea being, that a butterfly fluttering its wings in one place can affect the weather profoundly, and possibly catastrophically, weeks later in a distant location.

It’s just a theory, but when you think about it, the idea can be applied to a lot of what happens in life. I’ve even seen it cited in a PubMed paper titled, "The Butterfly Effect in Cancer: A Single Base Mutation Can Remodel the Cell.”

In the abstract of that paper — in between some stuff that isn’t part of my regular vocabulary — it describes how a single mutation in the PIK3CA gene can have a powerful effect on remodeling a cell towards a specific cancer.

The butterfly effect can be seen in how my late wife got cancer as well. But, in her case, it was inaction rather than a particular action that led to her cancer. Sure, a genetic mutation was involved. However, that mutation’s effect on certain cells could have been prevented if a relative’s gene sequencing report had been shared. The ultimate consequence was heartbreakingly devastating.

But why does the butterfly effect need to result in something unfortunate? Butterflies are exquisite creatures that help pollenate flowers and other plants. So, I would like to take the theory in another direction today: one of hope for the cancer community. The thought of how just one small act by a cancer researcher, a doctor, a nurse, an advocate, a caring family member or maybe even a cancer patient might ultimately lead to a positive event of significant life-saving importance – maybe even a cure.

Think about it and enjoy the coloring page.

And flap your wings.

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