Thursday, October 20, 2005

The OTHER Chicago Marathon

Cancer is horrendous. I sometimes wonder why I work with such an abominable disease and I can barely explain how discouraging some of my experiments are right now. Sure maybe it's the essence of human nature to ask the pathetically rhetorical question "Why am I here?" but I think this is one of those days where I really do wonder why I do what I do. A friend of mine's relative just got diagnosed with lung cancer and as I look around my lab at work this morning part of me just wants to scream in frustration "WHAT IS THIS ALL FOR?" People are still getting sick and dying at alarmingly high rates. Am I really contributing to progress? Is it foolish of me to think that we will find a cure? Foolish - I dunno. Arrogant - maybe. Idealistic - definitely. But regardless, there's times where I just have to get real and face up to the doubts plaguing my mind. And then I have to doubt my doubts. I wanted to post an e-mail on here that I wrote a while ago. (Appropriately enough I wrote it two years ago to the week.) It's a good reminder for me - and hopefully a good insight for you - of why I love what I do. I suppose my frustrations are due to feeling like I'm actually in the thick of "the marathon". It's long, but a worthy read.

Friday, October 17th, 2003
Wow. Since you're all usually asking me "How's work going?", "Any progress?", "Didja cure cancer yet??", I figured I'd send out a little journal type summary of my work life at present. See, there's times when I just really love my job. No, we didn't cure Neuroblastoma yet but our whole lab group has been going to the AACR (American Association of Cancer Research) Special Topics Conference in Chicago this week on "New Directions in Angiogenesis Research" - and yes, I got my name on the abstract for a poster/reserach paper that's gonna be presented, but that's another story.

To translate out of "Scientese", Angiogenesis is basically the term for growth of new blood vessels - which studies have shown is necessary for tumor growth. [The theory is that for cancer cells to multiply they need to recieve nutrients from the blood and in order to continue to be "fed" as they get larger, new blood vessels need to grow.] One of the head researchers responsible for discovering and proving theories of angiogenesis is a guy from Harvard, Dr. Judah Folkman, who has been speaking at this conference. Anyways, there's a whole complex world of the past thirty years where different people have discovered different protiens and different genes (that are responsible for producing proteins) that either activate or inhibit angiogenesis - they either cause or prevent the growth of new blood vessels and thus, in most cases, cause or prevent the growth of tumors.

The latest and probably most encouraging studies about this stuff involve combining chemotherapy with drugs proven to be angiogenesis inhibitors. One of the presentors this morning shared evidence of a stage three (tumors with really bad prognoses) clinical trial where a drug called Avastin, when administered with chemotherapy, was shown to extend the lifespan of patients with colorectal cancers to an average of five months longer than with chemotherapy alone. It was pretty cool news to see evidence of, but the research got a lot of backlash. "What good is five months?", "Five months more of chemo, that's not such great news!", "Is this really significant?", etc. That's when Dr. Folkman stood up and said something really cool (I wrote it down so I could quote him) - "In 1903 the Wright brothers took the world's first trip in an airplane. It lasted twelve seconds and only went fourteen feet in the air. Everyone said that a flight of this magnitude would never be worth anything. Forty years later Linbergh flew across the Atlantic and sixty years later we flew a man to the moon. This - is a first step." It really put things in perspective. We can't discard progress just because it is small. Even baby steps in the right direction means we're moving forward! And it really makes me think that all the work we're doing really can make a difference. Cancer research is a marathon race, not a sprint.

So, yeah, sorry that got so long, but that's me and my work for now. I'm not going to go into all the details of the project I'm on cause it's pretty technical but I will say that more and more I'm confident that God put me where I'm at for a reason. People might think that there's not much glory in being a paid by the hour research tech but I love what I'm doing (and the people I work with!!) and who knows, todays twelve seconds could be tomorrow's trip to the moon!

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