by Steve Goldfinger
The patient had turned 50 and was in perfect health when she went for her first colonoscopy. There, at the very last segment of bowel to be examined, was a small cancer growing in the region of her appendix. Surgery to remove it was performed the next week. Seventeen months later, she was dead from metastases throughout her body.
At age 55, my father noted constipation. Within weeks, he was unable to have a bowel movement. As a physician who was well aware of his own body, he could recognize each wave of peristalsis curving in his abdomen and then stopping abruptly where his colon met his rectum. He told me these things the night he brought home the films from the barium enema he’d gone through that day. Without doubt, a cancer completely obstructed his bowel. The next day, he signed in to the local community hospital, spared the foreign intern by cavalierly writing his own history into the chart, and called upon his surgical buddy “Chippy” to do the operation. No need for a major medical center or a renowned surgeon to take care of things. And Chippy was pretty good at what he did.
My mother and I sat in the waiting room, she in her thoughts and I in mine. A third year medical student having just completed a three month exposure to surgery, I expected the worst. When Chippy finally came in, I saw him smile. “No lymph nodes,” he exclaimed, “it all grew in.” My father lived another 32 years with nary a bowel complaint.
“It all grew in.”
Just what signal from the interior of my father’s bowel had directed those cancer cells inward? And with such force as to not allow any to escape in the other direction. Was it anything akin to the earth’s magnetic field that directs each salmon to its personal spawning rivulet? Impossible. Swallows travel 6,000 miles to return to Capistrano to resettle in their cliff nests each year. Instinct, memory, wind currents, and who knows what else. Nothing that seems to pertain to a cancer cell.
More likely, my father’s cancer cells didn’t all home inward. Perhaps some escaped from his colon but could not thrive in the outer world. Possibly, they found the soil of whatever tissue they reached inhospitable, not letting them set up shop and multiply. Or perhaps his cancer cells, unlike those of my patient, were unable to secrete a fertilizing substance that would allow them to dig deep and flourish in foreign lands.
Questions begging for answers.
After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!