Perhaps one day, doctors will be able to hit a "reset" button on our bodies, turning them back into the well-run machines they once were.
My wife, who, like many of us spends time on computers but has no need to understand the deep workings of these infernal machines, made a comment recently that seemed to fit perfectly with my ongoing dance with breast cancer. I was standing there with my new cell phone in hand, attempting to understand a small part of its mysterious programming, fuming at my inability to move beyond my frustration, when she suggested the idea of redirecting our busy minds and returning not just our thoughts but also our bodies back to their “factory settings”.
At that very moment I had a sense of what a cancer cure in the future could look like.
The hypothetical goal, it seems, would be to one day find the ability to restore our bodies to the well-run machines that most of us start out with. Perhaps such an accomplishment might be possible in the future but alas, there are some significant problems associated with this idea.
Cancer is not a single entity. It is comprised of numerous individual diseases that are grouped together because of the abnormal growth and proliferation of certain cells. What may be found to stop the production of unwanted cells for one cancer, would not necessarily work for another.
The best idea for living a full life after a cancer diagnosis then might be in finding a way to simply slow down cancer, allowing us to die from some other natural cause. My own version of disease, male breast cancer, has a high mortality rate, but we men are to blame in large part for that. Symptoms are often overlooked by men until it reaches an advanced stage.
So much can go wrong in a lifetime, and sooner or later all of us succumb to the advances of old age. In the 1800’s the average life span was not much beyond 40 years. “Old age” it seems, is a relative and always evolving term. It has been proposed by scientists that a human being who will live to be 150 has already been born. This sounds impossible, but keep in mind that there are still a full 150 years for this to occur, and perhaps by 2166 this will become commonplace.
The truth is, we already have what some consider to be “cures” for certain cancers. Breast cancer can be surgically removed as it was in my case, and the same is true for some forms of lung cancer if caught in its early stage. Some types of leukemia can be cured with bone marrow transplants. Skin cancers, basal cell and squamous cell cancers can be cut away. And the fact is, there are a number of cancers that can be put into remission with chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Immunotherapies, which harness the body’s own immune system, look promising to replace cell damaging chemotherapies in the future. But one of the biggest challenges is to make these changes last long enough so that the cancer cannot come back.
A true “cure” for all cancer then may be impossible.
But I for one believe that those things we deem to be impossible can become possible. And possibilities can become probable. And probabilities can become absolute certainties. We won’t stop looking for that ultimate cancer cure as long as we believe there’s a chance it exists.
The question then becomes, how much does what we believe about cancer and about life count in our health and healing?
In my opinion, there is no drug, no chemotherapy and no medical intervention more powerful than our ability to believe that our lives are perfect—just as they are, with or without cancer. My cancer has opened up a new phase in my life, in my work and in my relationships. I’m grateful for the way I’ve been awakened and shaken through my disease. I want nothing more than to be cured of this, but today it is with me—or perhaps not. Either way, I accept this very moment as life, and for that I am filled with gratitude. Death and dying are a given. It’s only the avenue through which we transition that causes the turmoil.
It’s been suggested that unless we come up with a cure for dying, there will always be cancer. And perhaps this is true, but I’ve learned a very important thing from my own breast cancer. I’m no longer pushed to simply live long—but to live well.
Khevin Barnes is a male breast cancer survivor, magician and speaker living in Vail, Arizona.