Tag Archives: Tolkien

Pledging My Axe to the Fight Against Cancer

Whoa hey! Guess what I got in the mail today? My genetic testing kit for joining the National Marrow Donor Program, that’s what! I’m taking a break from flash fiction today to tell you more about the experience. I’ve discussed leukemia and bone marrow donation in the past, and am very excited to invite you along for the ride.

I like to think of it like that scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn pledge their weapons to fight Sauron. The Fellowship of the Ring is a fellowship to destroy the Ring. In the same way, becoming a donor is a pledge fight the Enemy with the sword or ax that is your own immune system. Dear Fellowship of Leukemia, you can count me in on that fight.

Check out all the science swag! I got a few pages of directions, two packs of GIANT cotton swabs, and a nifty mailer for sending my DNA in for testing. Collecting my cell sample was very easy. You stick each cotton swab into the inside of your cheek and scrub for 10 seconds. This process rubs off buccal cells, or cheek cells, onto the swab. Repeat it three more times, and you’re done! Here is my completed set of DNA samples, all ready to mail:

DSCN0471

At this point, my part in the process is over. The swabs will go to a laboratory to get tested for protein markers. Those markers will be associated with my donor ID in the donor database. After that, I just go about my life. I may never get called on to donate, but my sample will be on file in case I happen to match someone.

So what happens if I match someone? Bone marrow donation comes in two flavors. The first and most common version is called PBSC donation, which stands for “peripheral blood stem cells”. If this is what the sick person needs, then I’ll receive five days of injections to prep for the donation. The injections will cause my bone marrow to produce an army of extra hematopoeitic or blood-forming stem cells. Think of these cells as raw recruits, able to take on any role necessary in your blood.

After five days, I’ll go into the doctor’s office and go through a procedure called apheresis. This is very similar to giving blood at the Red Cross, except instead of just giving a pint of blood, they’ll run my blood through a machine to separate out all the hematopoeitic stem cells and give me back the rest of my blood. Those of you who’ve participated in a blood drive may have experienced apheresis yourselves; the Red Cross uses this same procedure for plasma and red blood cell donation.

An illustration of bone marrow cells.
An illustration of bone marrow cells. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second type of bone marrow donation is to extract bone marrow straight from a bone.   If I get asked to do this type of donation, I’ll go into the doctor’s office, receive anesthesia, and then the doctor will use a needle to extract liquid marrow from the iliac crest of my os coxae, or hip bone. If you feel the prominent wings of your hip bones just above your thighs, near your waistband, that’s where the donation comes from. The missing bone marrow will grow back before a month’s past, because the skeletal system is awesome like that.

I’ve noticed that people get a little freaked out when we talk about procedures involving our bones. I think it’s because we’re used to thinking about our bones as something inorganic, sort of like the chassis of a car. If your car gets in an accident, you can get it repaired but it’ll never be the same again. Its structural integrity’s damaged forever. Fortunately, our bones are nothing like that. The human skeletal system is resilient and alive as long as you are. Right at this very moment, your bones are being dissolved and rebuilt to better adapt your body to its daily stresses. Bone remodeling is a fascinating physiological topic, and I plan to discuss it in more depth later this week.

So there you have it: I can now say I am actively doing something about cancer. Who else is fighting cancer? DC Comics superheroes! Check out this heartwarming video on what one hospital is doing to help children with leukemia going through chemotherapy. Warning: it might cause your eyes to sweat.

Hopefully this post has helped clear up some of your questions about bone marrow donation. If I’ve inspired you, click right here and join the registry yourself. Now that Batman’s involved, you’ll be in good company! If you’re already a donor or thinking about signing up, give yourself a shout-out in the comments below, because you are awesome.

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Endemic! Week: Obesity

Endemic! Week: an entire week of microfiction crafted around the word “endemic.” If you missed the introduction, read about it here.

A Midsummer Night’s Snack

Tintalle gave up brooding in her rose garden at the arrival of her son.

“Must you ride those things?” asked Tintalle, wrinkling her nose at his mount, a sturdy Clydesdale.

“It’s just a horse, Mother,” he replied.

“Unicorns are more respectable. At least make it a pony.”

“Those aren’t big enough to carry me, Mother,” answered her son. “And you can stop treating me like I’m the family secret. I’m a successful businesself, but all you can talk about is my weight.”

Tintalle colored. “It’s not that I’m ashamed of you. But shouldn’t you cut back on the cookies, Keebler?”

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Keebler Chips Deluxe Chocolate Lovers cookies
Keebler Chips Deluxe Chocolate Lovers cookies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone knows that elves are better than you. It’s been a fact of reality from the moment Tolkien penned the background mythology surrounding what would one day be The Lord of the Rings. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien gives the elves pride of place in his creation myth as as the firstborn children of the creator Illuvatar. Elves are ethereally beautiful and immune to physical aging. They can die from sorrow or from physical violence, but not from heart disease or Alzheimer’s Disease.

What did mankind get in Tolkien’s mythos?

The gift of Death.

I’m not making this up. Elves get immortality, and humans get to die.

Hurray?

Given this, it’s fun to think how elves would cope with mundane problems like obesity. We often talk about the “obesity epidemic”, but I think it’s important to recognize that obesity is often more like an endemic disease. It doesn’t spread rapidly like the flu or the Bubonic Plague. It takes years for a person to put on enough weight to reach obesity. Additionally, while anyone can become obese, obesity is associated with specific, localized populations. Generally, obesity is more widespread in industrialized countries (where everyone drives cars) and in impoverished areas (this is complex, but partially it’s because sometimes the cheapest food is fast food).

The mouse on the left has obesity induced by leptin resistance, while mouse on the right is healthy.
The mouse on the left has obesity induced by leptin resistance, while mouse on the right is healthy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the more exciting bits of research on weight gain was the discovery of leptin resistance associated with obesity. Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that regulate your appetite. Ghrelin sends the signal, “I’m hungry! Time to eat!” Leptin does the opposite – it tells your brain that you’re full. Mouse studies have demonstrated that certain diets can induce leptin resistance. This means that over time, the mouse loses the ability to realize it’s full. It thinks it’s starving, so it keeps eating way past the point of fullness.

Elves may be immortal, but I see no reason why an elf going into the cookie business wouldn’t struggle with sugar-induced leptin resistance as well. And you know what sucks? He’s got all of eternity to deal with all the associated issues.

Who’s laughing now, elves? That’s what I thought!