Vince Flynn, Cancer, and Naked Mole Rats

Vince Flynn, Cancer, and Naked Mole Rats

I. Hate. Cancer. I want to rip its throat out. I want to grab it by its wretched little ears, body slam it, then run it over with an Abrams tank. I want to rain Hellfire missiles down upon it until it waves a white flag and surrenders. But I can’t. No one can. And just when you think you’ve run it off, never to be heard from again, it has the audacity to pop its head from around the corner and jump out at you with a nightstick and thwack you right square between the eyes.

Renowned author and all-around-good-guy, Vince Flynn, died Wednesday following a two-year battle with the thing I hate most on this planet. It’s claimed my step-mother; it’s claimed my step-father; it’s afflicted or claimed more family and friends than I can count; and now it’s claiming the kindest, most generous man I’ve ever known, one who’s been more of a father to me than my own father ever was. It’s a rotten, cheating, son-of-a-bitch. And it tried to claim me, too.

Those who know someone who has fought a battle with the Big C know that the disease does not affect only the person with whom it’s picked a fight. It impacts the entire family. It affects all of your friends. They are in the trenches with you. It’s not a personal affliction like a cold, or the winter crud. It grabs everyone around it by the balls and shakes the living daylights out of us, morphing, learning, getting around every counterattack we lob at it. It’s smart. Too smart. We’re always playing catch-up. And every single ache and pain–and I’m talking for the rest of our lives–is automatically CANCER! Even if it’s not.

I’ve heard people criticize celebs (this month it’s Anjelina Jolie) and others for taking the drastic step of waging a pre-emptive cancer strike. And just this week hair stylist Melanie Strandberg of Spokane was forced to resign for committing the mortal sin of shaving her head in support of her sister who’s battling ovarian cancer. In my mind, these people are lunatics. They ignorantly assert, “She did it for herself.” Well, no freaking duh. Should we wait around until the enemy wages a full-on knock-down drag-out and THEN react, after the bomb has gone off? Should we wait until it’s become a full-blown army assaulting us from all sides before we act? Should we just embrace the alternative, death, leaving our children motherless? I made the very same decision Ms. Jolie made after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I could have chosen an easier path. Instead, I chose an alley that lead me down a pot-holed road paved with the most excruciating, debilitating, soul-wrenching nightmare imaginable. And I’d do it again, in a heartbeat. I’m a survivor. I’m bruised, battered, and forever scarred; but I’m alive. And so is Ms. Jolie. And sometimes, on very dark days, I feel guilty that I survived my own battle, while friends and family, and so many others, are still fighting, or have tragically already lost, theirs.

I know women who have expressed fear about visiting their doctor. They are apprehensive about what they may find. I understand. I get it. So was I. But the one thing that cannot be stressed enough is that you must. Do it for your family. Do it for yourself. Mammograms and other annual exams do indeed save lives. If caught early, many cancers are highly curable. And guys, please heed the words of Vince Flynn, who sadly lost his fight at such a young age: “Never surrender,” he said, “and find professionals that can help you beat the disease.” He dedicated his last novel, “Kill Shot,” to the brave doctors aggressively treating prostate cancer.

And speaking of naked mole rats (non sequitur segue, I know), here’s some encouraging news:

“[Naked mole rats] have an unusually long life span for a rodent, and they seem to be protected from developing cancer.”

“The researchers studied tissue cultures from naked mole rats and found these small, subterranean rodents produce a unique, high-molecular-mass form of hyaluronan, which they referred to as HMW-HA. When this substance was removed, Gorbunova and her colleagues found that naked mole rat cells became susceptible to tumor growth, suggesting HMW-HA plays an important role in the rodents’ resistance to cancer.”

Read more about it here and here.

I still hate cancer. I will always hate cancer. And I will always want to bury it in an oozing green pot of nuclear waste. But we can strike back, even if cancer throws the first punch, because knowledge is always power. Get off the couch. Make an appointment. Get your exams. Do it now. Save. Your. Life.

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Ava Gardner