Medical Microfiction: Metastasize


“Let’s build it in Kansas,” they said! “It’s the middle of nowhere,” they said!

Some geniuses they turned out to be. Sure, it’s isolated. I’ll give you that. If you’re going to build Area 52, what better place than the most boring stretch of farmland in America?

But really, it’s Kansas. Didn’t anyone consider the weather?

They built it anyway. Two months after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, an EF4-level tornado made short work of the holding pen roof, sending all the test subjects spiraling into the funnel.

The apocalypse began two hours later, when 500 angry zombies rained down on Wichita.


Today’s story illustrates the word metastasize, which describes the spread of a cancer from one organ or location to another one. Cancer’s a frequent topic here at Medical Microfiction because it’s a disease that may touch all of our lives at some point, whether it touches one of us directly or a loved one. We find it in our deepest fears and embedded in our books and movies.

Although we hear about cancer often, it’s rare that anyone bothers to explain how cancer works, its treatments, and the words used to discuss it. This is a problem because the unknown holds greater power over us than the known. We’re afraid of the monster under the bed.

In the past, I’ve written about leukemia, bone marrow donation, and graft-versus-host disease to  help clear the waters. Today we turn our attention to a general concept related to cancer: metastasis.

English: The Hesston, Kansas tornado of March ...
The ultimate zombie-dispersal mechanism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To explain it, let’s take breast cancer as an example. It begins when cells in the breast tissue multiply at an abnormal rate. These cells create the stereotypical “lump” in the breast that’s the first tip-off that you’ve got a problem. That’s bad. Metastasis ups the ante. Cells from the cancerous tumor break off into the bloodstream or lymphatic system and use them as highways to spread to other parts of the body. What was once just breast cancer is now also liver cancer or bone cancer.

Think of this process like the zombies in today’s story. As long as the zombies are contained to Area 52, you’ve got a lid on the problem. They’re easy to exterminate. But when the zombies take to the sky and rain down all over Kansas, it’s going to be much, much harder to control the outbreak. The zombies have metastasized.

Explains my recurring zombie nightmares, I suppose.

Monsters Inc
What does the monster under your bed look like? (Photo credit: Cyberslayer)

I know cancer isn’t the most cheerful of topics, but I want to demystify it so that you know exactly what the invisible fear looks like. I’m shining a flashlight under the bed. The monster may be there, but once you see it, you know exactly what you’re dealing with, and you can pick the right tools to combat it. Maybe it’s a little smaller, a little less scary than you expected.

For anyone interested in the practical approach, remember that you can personally become a cancer-slaying zombie hunter by joining the Bone Marrow Registry. I mention this program a lot on my blog because it’s both an easy and practical way to do something. Each of us has within our own bodies the potential to be someone’s unique cure for cancer, but there’s no way you’d know it unless you sign up.

What sorts of things scare you? Do you think the unknown is scarier than the known?

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