DNA is not a perfect molecule. It is mortal. Its synthesis isn’t always a perfect process–that’s why it has an editing/repair mechanism. When this mechanism breaks down due to age and/or damage and/or genetics (with a series of other factors) and contributes to a cell’s inability to stop replicating, you get cancer.
Most religions subscribe to an afterlife of some sort: resurrection, reincarnation. Immortality is their common theme.
When scientists grow healthy cells in a petri dish, the cells reproduce until a nice, confluent monolayer forms. Then they stop. When they cultivate cancer cells, the cells don’t stop replicating; layers of cells keep piling on top of each other. Their off switch is broken or was never activated. These cancer cells form a rather intricate network. This organized madness is called immortality in culture.
Modern medicine has slowed this down a little, but has found no cure. Not even close. Maybe it’s supposed to be that way.
Yesterday morning around 9:00, this message arrived in my Outlook Inbox at work:
“It is with regret that I have to report the passing of [a dear coworker friend]. She peacefully departed this morning in her sleep. At this time I do not have any other information. Please contact [this person] or [that person] for additional information such as an address to send condolences.
“Please pass this on to those that knew her.”
My first reaction was sadness. I forwarded the message to a coworker downtown, and we discussed it over instant messenger. It was only a matter of minutes before I was crying uncontrollably and excused myself to the bathroom to cry some more.
She worked out of the Delaware office. She came to New York a few times to help establish some of the operations procedures which had never really gotten under way. All I remember of her was how nice she was; how encouraging, and how she emphasized lessons to be learned from every situation. She conferred privately with me a couple times to agree on the faceless monster that is Corporate America. She was always optimistic, always finding a way to laugh.
She had struggled with breast cancer earlier in life. She underwent treatment. Doctors assigned her a good bill of health. Then in the past year, it came back furiously. Seized her body. Recently doctors gave her three months to live. Yesterday wasn’t three months. She was a daughter and a mom and a wife and a friend to everyone who ever knew her.
When we’re resurrected, will all our cells be cancerous, i.e. immortal? Cancer is just the difference between mortal and immortal cells. It seems our bodies wouldn’t know otherwise if all our cells were immortal. Throughout history, mortals and immortals have always been separate. People in the scriptures were always transfigured before standing in the presence of God. Minus the biochemistry, maybe it’s just that simple: the relationship between cancer cells and “healthy” cells will never be symbiotic. Cancer will always win, because it never dies.
You can’t kill it. It tricks you, seemingly. It might go away, but it will always come back. It kills you. Without warning. Without sense. It’s immortal. It kills you before you have a chance to die. It sucks, because WE are mortal, and we’re ticked off because something we can’t control has beaten us at conquering death, to the point of killing us. All the research in the world won’t help us understand why. Nor will it keep us from missing our friends and loved ones.
That separation is temporary, though, as mortality defines. While we’re mortal, we’ll keep missing our friends and loved ones; we’ll keep wondering why the Lord gives us certain experiences. Eventually we’ll all die and reunite with our friends and loved ones. Then we won’t stop growing. We’ll never die. When we’re all immortal, we’ll be just one big happy cancer, except that we won’t know the difference. So maybe we’ll just be happy.