In your life, there will be a selection of days that change you. These days, and the events they hold, will influence who you are as a person and shape your values from that magical day onwards.
For me, one of those such days began under the blazing sun, my parents and I cruising down one of those highways in Northern BC that go on forever and ever. Sweet melodies of my dads severely outdated music and the magnificent view of absolutely nothing interesting racing by our windows, I felt like something interesting had to happen.
And then, I started to feel like something disgusting was going to happen, and it was going to happen all over our brand-new leather interior.
It turns out that sketchy gas station tacos, three bags of Doritos, and 1200 gallons of water do not a fun road trip make. In fact, it is the perfect recipe to the most awful, deplorable, nauseating bowel movement. The kind of bowel movement that would win “Heaviest Stench” four years running and only lose to the smell of a middle school boys changeroom after the Beep Test.
Now, being on the highway in the middle of “God forgot about this place and so did real estate developers,” there are few established structures, and even fewer blessed with the luxury of plumbing. This is because there are no people. There are, however, trees and bears and something that seems to lurk on the side of the highway that actively discourages relieving oneself in the forest. (Spoiler: it’s the crippling fear of getting a mosquito bite in the places you are least willing to scratch in public.)
Five agonizing minutes later, I was ready to accept my fate and walk straight in to the certain doom some malicious deity dealt unto me with my head held high and legs crossed when suddenly, on the horizon, gleaming like an oasis does to some dumbass who decided to walk the desert without a sufficient water supply, I glimpsed my saviour: A Porta-Potty. A plastic blue beacon of relief, signalling to all weary travellers and makers of bad decisions that yes, you are safe to defecate here.
And defecate I did. I’ll spare you the gory details.
It was on this fateful day, this day of immeasurable stress of Herculean proportions and CIA-mandated torture on my kidneys, that I learned to appreciate and revel in the glory that is the Porta-Potty. In time of desperation and immense hydration, of cheap nourishment and too-long lines at ladies’ washrooms, of strife and pain akin to watching old people figuring out Facebook, the Porta-Potty is always there for you when you need it most. Friends will leave, family will turn out to be devout Republicans, and you will discover that your digestive system is not as reliable as previously thought and the presence of the Porta-Potty will become an essential aspect of your life at that moment, a necessity that you will indulge in with your dignity hopefully still intact. The portable toilet – or as it used to be called, a “thunder box” – is the uniting force between all mankind, destroying social barriers with only a hole in the ground and the offering of privacy. There is no differentiation between rich and poor in the Porta-Potty, black or white, male or female, or even those who think that Comic Sans is a good font and those who are right: there are only those who need to go. The Porta-Potty is a gift bestowed unto us mere mortals and it is imperative that we recognize it for what it is: a blessing. So, the next time you are graced with the sight of a Porta-Potty, whether it be blue or pink or green, remember how privileged you are to be in its presence. It does, after all, go through a lot of shit.
Projet de Zone : Les Scènes
Ces scènes sont supposées de se passer après les interrogations des membres du groupe, mais avant le commencement de la 3e acte. Idéalement, les comédiens qui jouent Passe-Partout, Tarzan, et Tit-Noir sont moins âgées dans ces scènes que dans la reste de la pièce, mais ce n’est pas si important. Le but est que ces scènes donnent plus d’histoire pour ces personnages et donnent les spectateurs une raison d’avoir de la compassion pour eux. J’espère que je l’ai accompli.
Scène 1 : Passe-Partout
La scène est complètement noire. On peut entendre le souffle du vent, le bruissement des arbres, la sirène d’un policier dans la distance. Soudainement : une lumière apparait dans le coin et un garçon tombe sur l’étage. Il ne peut pas avoir plus que seize ans.
VOIX D’UN HOMME : Je ne veux pas te voir dans ma maison encore !
VOIX D’UNE FEMME : Jacques, non !
Le bruit d’une frappe forte. La femme crie. Le garçon commence à courir vers l’autre côté d’étage. Il court maladroitement, comme son corps veut aller plus vite que ses jambes sont capables à courir. Le garçon arrête au milieu d’étage, entouré par les bâtiments. Le souffle du vent devient plus fort et le garçon commence à frissonner, donc il frotte ses bras. On peut voir la lumière de la lune, mais la scène n’est pas calme. C’est complètement silencieux, trop silencieux pour une ville occupée. On entend le hurlement d’un loup seul dans la distance. Le garçon tourne sa tête à gauche, à droite, et finalement en haut. Il bouge ses yeux comme il essaie de trouver quelque chose dans le ciel, mais il n’y a aucune étoile. Il prend une profonde inspiration tremblante et tire sa chemise plus proche au corps. Il essaie d’ouvrir la porte d’un bâtiment. Quand elle n’ouvre pas, il prend une épingle de sa poche et le mettre dans le trou de serrure. Après quelques secondes, la porte ouvre et le garçon l’entrer.
Quelques heures plus tard. Les rayons de soleil sont faibles, suggérés de la pluie qui vient. Un homme entre la scène, une serviette à la main. Il entre le même bâtiment que le garçon de la nuit avant est entré. Il laisse la porte ouverte ; on peut voir dedans. Le garçon est endormi sur le plancher.
L’HOMME, fortement : Ah, t’es qui ?
Le garçon saute en l’air.
LE GARÇON : Je suis désolé, monsieur, j’avais seulement besoin de quelque part pour me reposer, mon père m’a –
L’HOMME : J’ai demandé qui tu es.
LE GARÇON : Je m’appelle René, monsieur. René Lang- René. Seulement René.
L’HOMME : Comment es-tu entré ? T’as un passe-partout ou quoi ?
RENÉ : Pas exactement. Je juste… passes partout.
L’HOMME : Sortes maintenant et je ne téléphonerais pas la police.
RENÉ : Merci, monsieur.
René sort. L’homme ferme la porte en arrière de lui avec de la grande force. René saute un peu en l’air. Il tourne sa tête vers le gauche, puis vers le droit. Il ne sait pas où aller. Il commence à marcher lentement, ses mains dans les poches et son regard vers le plancher.
Soudainement : le projecteur tourne vers quelqu’un, un garçon, sur le toit d’un bâtiment. Un peu plus âgé que René, mais pas par beaucoup. Il saute du toit et s’attire devant René. René est surpris.
RENÉ un peu fâché : Penses-tu t’es qui ? Tarzan ou quoi ?
LE GARÇON : Tarzan… j’aime ça.
RENÉ : Bon pour toi, t’as un nouveau surnom maintenant. Pourquoi as-tu sauté devant moi ?
LE GARÇON : Je voulais savoir comment tu es entré le bâtiment là-bas. Le verrou, c’est presque impossible de forcer sans le casser.
RENÉ : Je suppose que je peux passer partout.
LE GARÇON : Évidemment. (Il se tends la main.) Je m’appelle François. T’es qui ?
René est suspicieux et hésitant de se serre la main. Il le fait quand même.
RENÉ : René. René Langlois.
FRANÇOIS : Ah, le fils de l’ivrogne fameux de la 13e Rue.
RENÉ durement : Surveille ton langage. Mon père n’est pas ivrogne.
FRANÇOIS : Mais non ? Donc pourquoi est-il dans la taule trois fois par semaine pour commencer les disputes dans les bars ?
RENÉ : Comment tu sais ça ? Évidemment tu n’es pas assez âgé pour aller dans les bars.
FRANÇOIS : Bien sûr, mais je suis assez âgé pour passer la nuit dans le poste de la police.
RENÉ : Pour quoi es-tu arrêté ?
FRANÇOIS : Le crime simple de chercher pour quelque part de dormir.
RENÉ : Pourquoi tu ne dors pas chez toi ?
FRANÇOIS rire : T’es mignon, tu sais ça ? Pourquoi tu ne dors pas chez toi ?
RENÉ : Parce que mon père m’a mis à la porte. Ton tour.
FRANÇOIS : Dehors est mieux que chez moi. Tellement mieux.
René sens de la compassion pour François. Ici, c’est une âme sœur, quelqu’un qui lui comprend. Il est aussi un peu impressionné par François – qu’est-ce qu’il a vu ? Qu’est-ce que se passe pendant sa vie ? Il vraiment vis la vie seule. Le visage de René réfléchie ça – à un fois si dur, c’est maintenant plus gentil.
RENÉ : Je peux trouver quelque part pour nous ce soir, si tu veux.
FRANÇOIS : « Nous » ?
RENÉ : Nous.
FRANÇOIS pause, puis dit : J’aimerais ça. Merci.
Ils partent l’étage ensemble, en parlant de tout et rien au même temps. Ils ne touchent pas. L’atmosphère est plein d’espoir, même s’ils ne sont certaines de rien.
Scène 2 : Tit-Noir
La scène ouverte sur une église modeste. Il y a une croix en bois et quelques bancs, et pas beaucoup plus de tout. La lumière crée par les fenêtres en vitrail est rouge, jaune, bleu. Elle peinture l’église simple en une œuvre d’art merveilleuse. Un garçon s’assis sur le banc en devant, ses mains ensembles et tête basé en prière. On peut entendre qu’est-ce qu’il dit.
LE GARÇON : Le Dieu, je vous cherche. Je vous cherche parce que j’ai besoin de l’aide, des conseils, au moins une signe que je suis sur le bon chemin. (Il pause, respire, essaie de ne pleurer pas.) Mon père est mort. L’alcool, bien sûr. Il était un bon homme, mais pas un bon père. Il soutenait la famille, mais maintenant qu’il n’est pas avec nous toujours, ma mère travaille deux emplois – un dans le jour, un dans le nuit. Elle est malade, vielle, et ne peut pas travailler pour beaucoup plus du temps. Je ne crois pas qu’elle ait beaucoup plus du temps pour vivre si je ne fais rien. J’ai besoin du travail. J’ai déjà quitté l’école, mais il n’y a personne qui veut employer un enfant de 16 ans sans l’éducation et sans père. Mais j’ai trouvé quelqu’un, un garçon qui souvient de moi de l’école primaire – il s’appelle René Langlois et il veut faire la contrebande mais il a besoin de quelqu’un pour prendre soin des finances parce qu’il n’est pas très bon aux maths. Il a dit que je peux recevoir 25% des profits, qui n’est pas beaucoup mais c’est assez. Je veux lui aider, mais c’est la contrebande. J’aurai cassé les lois si je le fais. Mais j’ai fait ma recherche et j’ai vu qu’il n’y a rien dans le Bible contre la contrebande, donc je pense que ça va. J’espère que ça va. S’il vous plait, laisse-le ça va.
Un prêtre vient sur l’étage et approche le garçon.
LE PRÊTRE : Arsène, que fais-tu ? N’est-ce pas que tu dois être à l’école ?
ARSÈNE : J’ai quitté l’école.
LE PRÊTRE : Pourquoi, mon fils ?
Arsène hausse les épaules. Le prêtre s’assit à côté de lui et regarde à la croix dans le centre d’église. Ses yeux semblent qu’il voit quelque chose qu’Arsène ne peut pas voir.
LE PRÊTRE : Tu as l’aire que tu prends une grande décision.
ARSÈNE : Vous pouvez dire ça.
LE PRÊTRE : Peux-tu me l’expliquer ?
ARSÈNE : Il faut que je fasse quelque chose mauvais, quelque chose illégal, mais c’est pour survivre moi et ma mère. Je me demande si c’est toujours mauvais si mes intentions sont bonnes.
LE PRÊTRE : C’est une décision vachement difficile.
ARSÈNE : Oui, mon Père. C’est pourquoi je demande le Dieu.
LE PRÊTRE : Qu’est-ce que tu demandes du Dieu ?
ARSÈNE hésite, puis : Le permission, je suppose.
LE PRÊTRE avec une sourire : Je pense que tu as déjà ta solution.
ARSÈNE : Quoi ?
LE PRÊTRE : Tu sais déjà ce que tu dois faire, et je pense aussi ce que tu veux faire. Même si c’est illégal, tu aurais toujours l’opportunité pour recevoir la rémission. T’as un bon cœur, Arsène Larue. Il faut que tu l’écoutes quelques fois.
Le prêtre s’élève et parte Arsène. Arsène signe la tête, comme il essaie de lui convainc pour la dernière fois qu’il fait la bonne chose. Il regarde à la croix pour quelques secondes, puis s’élève. Il marche hors d’église, ses mains dans les poches et son dos un petit plus étroit. La lumière semble un petit peu plus brillant et une chorale commence à chanter doucement.
This is actually from Semester 1 of Grade 10, but I read it again and I’m genuinely proud of it so I’m posting it here so it may be immortalized on the internet.
The link between mathematics and philosophy was my entire inquiry project, so I apologize if you don’t read something incredibly profound about how math is actually grounded in unanswerable questions, just like philosophy. If you are looking for that, please see my inquiry project write-up. Instead, I’m going to go really in depth into specific mathematically philosophical questions.
Language is one of those human concepts that are simultaneously infuriating in its limits and exhilarating in its possibilities. I’ve often felt betrayed by the English language, as I search for a word that perfectly describes what I’m feeling, only to discover that it doesn’t exist. However, as a lover of literature, it’s difficult to stay angry for long. Humans are able to describe nearly everything in our visible universe, and we like to feel that we know everything there is that needs to be known, and then some. But that feeling doesn’t really matter to discoverers and inventors, so it inevitably always gets ignored. Us humans have the concept of infinity, defined as something with no ends and no limits. It just goes on and on and on (like me!), and it is impossible for humans to fully grasp this concept. We rely so heavily on physical representations of ideas, thus making complex concepts, like time travel and infinity, unimaginable to us. We can’t imagine something that doesn’t exist to us, and that is to be expected. So, why do we talk about the infinite so much, when it doesn’t even apply to us?
One perspective is the mathematical side. We use concepts like infinity in, say, graphing, because we logically know that there no boundaries to a function like x + 1 = y. We can represent this on a graph or in a table of values, but all the values of y are impossible to list, because they’re infinite. You can add one to any number an infinite number of times, and you will still get a possible y value. This concept also applies to fractions and negative integers, even irrational numbers. Pi plus one is just π + 1, shortened to 4.1415… Even irrational numbers, that we use so often in mathematics, go on infinitely! An irrational number is defined as a non-terminating, non-repeating decimal, therefore it goes on infinitely. We use these little infinities constantly: pi, phi, certain ratios and fractions. We also find these irrational numbers in nature – the Golden Ratio can be seen almost everywhere in nature, and is directly linked to the Fibonacci sequence. Therefore, this tells us that some form of infinity must exist outside of humans, that there are situations where never-ending and limitless concepts exist.
However, (there’re a lot of those in this little composition) we can also look at infinity philosophically. When we talk about something that never ends, we begin to erase the basic aspects of life itself – as morbid as it sounds, death and decay. If, for example, human beings were infinite, we would either never die or our bodies would never decompose. Either one. But then there’s the idea of souls, or some sort of aspect of humanity that is separate than the total sum of our parts. It is my belief that, if one were to completely clone a living person, give them the exact same memories and emotions as the original, you would still get someone completely different. This new person would not be the old one in all shapes and forms, but that missing aspect is unknown. I’m not sure if this missing aspect is infinite in its existence, but it’s definitely possible. We can also think about infinite time philosophically. Often, we ask ourselves if anything we do is worth it, if it’s all towards some purpose or if it’s even going to remain. Logically, we may know that whatever we make and everything we do will eventually disappear, but we don’t know when. Our brains are hardwired so that the idea of humanity perishing, of us just ceasing to exist, terrifies us. There’s the survival instinct, of not wanting to die, but we also don’t like the idea of putting all this work, effort, and time into the things we’re proud of, and thinking that they will have been for nought. I know I don’t like thinking about it.
Our brains tell us that time isn’t infinite, but science tells us that the universe itself might be. According to multiple theories, proposed by those much more educated than I, there are an infinite number of possibilities in an infinite number of dimensions in an infinite universe. This is described as the multiverse theory, and it gives a certain amount of hope that things are better somewhere in our supposedly infinite universe. Although, this also means that things are worse, but good and bad are all relative and depend on our definitions, so it’s inevitably a language issue, which I touched on earlier, and this whole mind-screwing idea is a topic for another composition. Anyway, according to this theory, literally anything is possible, and that sounds like something you’d see on a poster with a sunset in the background, but it’s also a mathematical goldmine. In inequalities that state x ≥ y, x can be equal to or larger than y, meaning x can be equal to almost anything other than y. However, if y is equal to negative infinity (-∞) x can be anything, including negative infinity. Because infinity (even negative infinity) is, you know, infinite.
Some infinities are larger than other infinities, but that’s per our current definition of infinity. This definition might change with more concepts introduced over time or more “mathematical evidence”, but it always just comes down to language and how we interpret it. When I think of the word “infinity”, I think of the multiverse theory. Other people might think of infinite time, of wormholes, of graphs. The thoughts that come into our minds when we think of infinity are, dare I say it, endless. Does this imply our own thoughts, the little electric shocks zooming through our brains at thousands of miles per hour, are infinite? Who knows? Why do we even care? If they are infinite, why? Why wouldn’t they be? I can come up with multiple answers to each of those questions, but none of them are definitive, which is really cool. This implies that even our most logical field, mathematics, isn’t definitive. It implies that current science isn’t definitive, and it’s all just theory, when you really think about it. Philosophy as we know it has managed to worm its way into every aspect of logic with its unanswerable questions, almost always beginning with “why”. Maybe this explains why we use “y” as a variable. Maybe it doesn’t, but that’s okay. (If the multiverse theory is to be believed, then there is a Sara who knows why, or has at least convinced herself that she does.)
I think what I took away most from these philosophical discussions in math class was accepting that sometimes there isn’t an answer, that math isn’t necessarily the say-all, do-all. It’s mostly about discussion and exploring all these ideas. Maybe it’s naïve of me to think about, but how much could we do if we acknowledged that not everything is clean-cut with a simple answer and a picture? If we did things out of pure curiosity (as I do most of the time), and because we think there might be a positive outcome? Is there any better way of doing things?
If you thought genetically engineering a human genome was a little freaky, you’re right. If you think it’s still cool, you’d also be right.
Genetic engineering is exactly what you think it is – the engineering of genes. More specifically, it’s directly changing a genome to make a new or edited organism. This can be accomplished through molecular cloning (cloning of the desired DNA strand, and injecting the copied DNA into the organism so it replicates itself), or gene targeting (removal of a gene, adding a gene, or introducing a point mutation – like purposefully inducing a genetic mutation), but there is now a much more precise way to genetically modify an organism. It’s called CRISPR, and it is being widely regarded as a revolutionary development in science. The thing is, scientists didn’t invent it.
CRISPR stands for “Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”, and it is naturally occurring. It consists of prokaryotic DNA with repeating base sequences, and this initially puzzled scientists, until they realized that they have “spacer DNA”, which means that all these sequences are the genetic makeup of something – it was later discovered that this “something” was viruses. Cells were found to be keeping a sort of database of the DNA of certain viruses, and using proteins (Cas – CRISPR-associated proteins) to target the virus when it entered the cell.
CRISPR takes certain sections of a virus’ DNA and turns it into RNA, which Cas then takes control of and carries it around the cell. If the protein encounters something that matches the RNA, Cas cuts it into two so it cannot replicate itself within the cell. Scientists mostly focus on Cas9, which is the associated protein of strep throat. Cas9 can recognize genetic sequences twenty bases long, so biologists can feed it the RNA of any desired gene and it can go and copy and paste it anywhere you want in the genome.
This technique has been recently used in mice. Gene engineering mostly consists of isolating genes and messing with them a bit, to see what effect they really have on an organism. Normally, to isolate a gene, scientists would have to go through three generations of mice to get the desired phenotype, but now with CRISPR, they need only insert the gene into an embryonic stem cell and it takes one generation to see the gene. It’s also being proposed to be used in fighting inherited diseases – when you inject the copy of a certain gene, but it is non-functional, embryonic stem cells will adopt the new gene and replicate that. The generation born will have a “knocked-out” version of the gene, meaning it does not work. Using CRISPR, scientists may be capable to do the same thing with much more precision and efficiency than ever before.
CRISPR is still in early development, but with more testing, it is definitely possible to witness some incredible advancement in science. However, any form of genetic engineering has always been under mass scrutiny. In 2015, scientists at major academic establishments called for the world to place a temporary ban on editing inheritable human genomes. Also, the term “genetically modified organism” has become almost synonymous with genetically modified food and crops, which are subject to ridiculous amounts of debate, mostly due to GMO-manufacturer Monsanto’s suspicious and unethical activity. CRISPR is being proposed for certain forms of gene therapy (genetic engineering in humans for clinical use), but this is even more controversial than the food. It was only in 2012 that the first form of gene therapy was permitted world-wide after the European Commission cleared the treatment, Glybera, for clinical use. (Glybera compensates for a rare genetic disease called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) deficiency, which can cause severe pancreatitis. Glybera puts the LPL gene into the cell, and it acts as a free-floating DNA strand.)
Despite obvious benefits of using CRISPR and other forms of genetic engineering, it is virtually impossible to get anything out to the public. (The biggest genetic innovation that has hit the market so far is probably GloFish or blue roses.) American laws about gene engineering haven’t been updated since 1996, and much has changed since. These regulations were written with only genetically modified bacteria in mind (genetically engineered insulin made it onto the market in 1982), and it was incomprehensible that we could edit the human genome with the simple insertion of isolated RNA. CRISPR still isn’t perfect, but more research still needs to happen. And that doesn’t just apply to this specific technique – when it comes to gene engineering, anything from genetically modified food to certain forms of cancer research are up for intense debate.
Although, it is still important to remember that we’ve come a long way, and it’s amazing what humans are capable now. The more we understand our genes, the better we can make ourselves. I’m not talking edited babies, with chosen hair and eye colour – I’m thinking more along the lines of completely taking the genes that cause negative mutations in humans, such as Alzheimer’s and blindness, out of the human gene pool.
Now imagine if Mendel could’ve seen that.
Sorry, I’m Not Superman
My mother says that I cannot save the world.
The people are not my obligation.
She knows that my efforts will prove fruitless.
But I know something too.
I know apathy like a cancer grows.
(The tumour is the size of bullet holes.)
I know that I have to stand on my desk
And scream out my pleas.
I pledge allegiance to the idea,
The oh-so radical proposition,
That the future is ours.
My motivation is of love and hope,
Humanity’s certain desire to create,
And the glimpse of something better than now.
I will not be silent.
While the cellphones of the silenced still ring,
When nothing is heard but bigotry, hate.
While there is still something I can, must do.
While hope remains in light.
Free will will never been an illusion,
Not if I have something to say ‘bout it.
Ignorance is not bliss.
I know that I cannot save the whole world.
But I can love it, and love it I do.
The bandages will be painted and bright,
The scars flower-covered.
Sara Parker’s poem Sorry, I’m Not Superman relates to the themes of the power of an individual, and how one becomes motivated in the face of oppression or injustice. It is a semi-structured poem, formed in to seven quatrains, each with three lines of ten syllables and one line with six syllables. The title itself has a sarcastic undertone, symbolizing that it will be much more difficult for the author to disassemble the status quo, to “fight”, than it is for Superman to defeat his enemies. The poem itself is a call to action, a call for the reader to speak out and help destroy society’s apathy towards disaster.
Mushrooms Sylvia Plath
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.
Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath is similar thematically to The Friday Everything Changed by the theme of the underdogs, the little ones. The poem speaks of the ones that no one thinks anything of, and how they make their ascent slowly. The story tells the tale of the students who everyone doubted, but over time, they unite and ascend to the top slowly (“soft fists insist on heaving the needles”) Both works explain the “underdogs”, those that have been oppressed, are making themselves noticed in due time (“Nobody sees us, stop us, betrays us. The small grains make room”). One could draw relations to the theme of female empowerment in both works, what with the quote “We are shelves, we are tables, we are meek”. Shelves and tables are necessary, but no one wishes for them. They are not strong – until they are. Until the “so many” rise above, slowly, without anyone noticing, and they “inherit the earth”. In the case of The Friday Everything Changed, the girls are there – they are necessary for softball. But once The Question is asked, the girls begin to rise to power. They unite, and the fight back. The boys notice, of course, but one day, everything changes. Miss Ralston puts her “foot in the door”, and the girls “inherit the earth”, or in this case, the bucket.
I feel like this assigned project is very relevant today, this week. Initially, we were studying DNA and genetic mutations in Science class, and related diseases. The most prominent harmful genetic mutation is cancer, in all its forms. We were told to do a project about it, on whatever branch that you can write a report on cancer about. Mine was initially going to be from a statistical, scientific point of view. I would rattle off stats and facts, and somehow link them together using what some people call my “special writing skills”. But after hearing of so many of the world’s cherished be taken by cancer, I can’t help but feel emotional.
I’ve never been worried about getting cancer. I’ve had relatives who’ve been victims of it, of course. Approximately 40% of people will be diagnosed in their lifetimes, and almost 100% will be undoubtedly affected. My uncle died of mesothelioma, the decay of the protective tissue in the lungs. However, it was asbestos-induced, so I would not inherit it unless I worked unsafely in decade-old shipyards. My grandfather, on the other side of the family, had pancreatic cancer, one of the most common cancers in the world. However, it is most common in men and normally doesn’t arise until after the age of 65. My father had basal cell carcinoma on his ear, but it was exterior and could not spread. He and I are both ridiculously pale (blame the Scottish heritage), so it was basically just a sunburn that turned into a scab that wouldn’t go away. The doctors cut it off (in no rush, I can be sure of that), replaced some of the tissue with his other ear, and that was the end of it. My dad had to wear a giant bandage over his ear for a week, and when he took them off, it was pretty disgusting (I found it fascinating though – I’ve never gone queasy around blood and guts), but those were the only side effects. I’ve never witnessed anyone suffer from cancer, and as far as I was concerned before conducting my research, I never would. But I fear I should.
I live in Canada, North America. Here, the most common cancer is that of the breast. It is also the number one killer of women. However, I do not have any history of this horrible disease, so I like to think I’m fairly safe. But on the other hand, I live in North America, where smoking, alcohol, and obesity runs amok. Coincidentally enough, smoking, alcohol, and obesity are three of the main causes of cancer. Tobacco use has long been warned against, but lung cancer is still on the rise. Smoking itself has decreased, but the dangers of second-hand smoking has only just been recently realized, and as a high school student living in an urban area, smoke is all around. I’d rather not get into obesity, but most medical experts agree that a good exercise regimen and a balanced diet will greatly reduce the risk of getting cancer. Statistics can also show that 1/3 of deaths by cancer are directly linked to obesity and lack of exercise.
I am not, however, incredibly tempted by alcohol. Of course there are underage drinkers, and most adults I know enjoy a couple glasses of wine, but while liver cancer remains one of the top global killers, it is not in North America. The East-Asian country of Mongolia has the highest rates of liver cancer in the world, at approximately 94 out of every 100,000 people dying of it every year. This is mostly blamed on many cases of Hepatitis B and C, and lots of alcohol. China is also the most common place you will find stomach cancers, due to a large portion of their diet being salty, and the food and water that is consumed is, more often than not, contaminated. Lung cancer follows not far behind. If you go down even more south, in South-East Africa, cervical cancer is most plentiful. By comparison, there are hardly any cases in America due to the invention of the cheap and convenient Pap test, but this routine exam is not available in developing countries. But this is not an unique case in third-world nations – lack of resources is, contrary to popular opinion, the number one reason that diseases, that can be easily captured and cured here, are so plentiful there. I’ve seen it for myself, and the doctors there are much more concerned with malaria and HIV than with cancer, and rightfully so.
A very common cancer in North America is called melanoma, also known as skin cancer. This normally comes from prolonged exposure to radiation and UV rays. UV rays come from tanning beds and the sun itself, and when you live in a culture that loves the beach and the summer (thanks to the Beach Boys and movies from the 1970s), melanoma is increasingly common. In the West, we have a suspicious lack of genetic defense to the sun. It rains so much here that our skin is allowed to be fair, but when the clouds are grey for so long, if the sun comes out, we are outside and bathing in it. At least, I do that. And that’s why me, someone with relatively no genetic history of cancer, am at risk. I mentioned previously I am pale, and if I neglect to put on sunscreen and wear a hat, I may become one of those 14.5 million people who live with cancer. I am constantly reminded about my risk from one of my good friends, whose father died of severe melanoma.
But my case is not rare. I didn’t have to do very much digging to effectively learn that of course I’m prone to cancer, and I highly doubt you do either. And with recent reminders of how deadly a disease cancer is, I don’t believe much more motivation is needed. The number of people diagnosed with cancer is expected to rise to 19 million by 2024, but we can do a part in preventing that by educating ourselves. A very small portion of cancers are inherited, with the number one killers caused by tobacco, alcohol, living an unhealthy lifestyle, and UV ray exposure. The death rates have been generally on the decline, but rates of certain types of cancer have stabilized, if not increased. People are living longer, therefore being more prone to cancer, but there may just be an end in sight. We wish for a cure, but it is not that simple. There are many types of cancer and cancer cells are unpredictable. Radiation and chemotherapy remain very dangerous, but we do have cures to certain types. Scientists are hard at work learning how to fight our own cells, but we can help too, by donating or just keeping yourself healthy and learning what your risk is. There are many treatments for cancer, but the best is early detection. And in a time where have we already lost so many, you might as well start learning.
In memory and dedicated to
David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and all the others who have perished. You are not another statistic, not another figure on a page. You are people, and are missed.
MUTATION STORY: LEUKODYSTROPHIES
PART 1: The Story
My name is Alexander, and I was born yesterday.
Technically, I go by many names – Metochromatic leukodystrophy, Krabbe, Canavan – but that doesn’t matter too much. I’m hungry, and I have a craving for the fatty, white matter of Abe’s brain and the nerve fiber inside.
I only got here because the cells messed up, and their wall, the myelin sheath, isn’t as protected as it should be. I’m not too sure why – neither are the doctors, to be fair – but it’s either because something went missing in Exon 16, in the GALC gene and sparked a premature STOP codon, the ARSA genes never showed up to the party, or some other mutation in the GFAP or ASPA genes. Either way, some amino acids got mixed up and all the cells got confused. There was a small, nearly undetectable system failure, and I was born. Created to eat away at this little boy’s brain, until he goes into a vegetative state and his brain stops firing neurons everywhere.
But there’s so much to do before that! I have to disrupt the electrical molecules in his brain, just enough so that they slow down a bit, and Abe’s muscles stop functioning properly. His parents won’t understand, and neither will the doctors, until they conduct a MRI. They’ll think it’s MS, until they see less white on the brain then there should be. They won’t see me though, and even if they do, Abe will be crying too much for them to care. He’s only a babe, yet so sensitive to sounds and lights. He’s not fascinated by them, like the other babies are – he’s scared, and they’re irritating them more than anything. But he’ll grow up a bit, and his parents won’t know that it was the father’s fault, but he couldn’t have known until the worst happens. Abe will be diagnosed with epilepsy, and as if that doesn’t worry Mr. and Mrs. Cooper enough, he’ll inhale his saliva and wake them to his desperate, rattled coughing.
Sometimes, I start to feel bad. Abe was a good newborn, didn’t cry too much and made the Cooper’s so irrevocably happy. Sure, his head was tilted a little bit backwards, but they didn’t care. He was theirs, and he was perfect. Until he wasn’t, of course. But a mutation’s got to eat.
Abe will live till about seven years old. He’ll attend kindergarten, but also the doctor’s office regularly. They’ll pump him full of medications to prevent the pain and control his muscles, but they won’t be able to get rid of me. I’ll keep eating until there’s nothing left, until the nerve fibres fall apart and there’s no longer any neurons telling his arms to move, his lungs to breathe.
The Cooper’s will cry once his heart stops beating. They’ll wish it took him faster, but only because his last words were “Mommy, it hurts”. They’ll ask “Why Abe?” every night before they go to bed, but it’s not up to me if it’s in the same house or not. He was so excited for school, and to learn how to write his name, even if his hands didn’t work like all the other’s kids. He couldn’t see too much, and the teacher had to wear a device around her neck, synced to the aid in his ear, just so he could hear her speak. She’ll be sad too, but the kids won’t understand. They won’t even be able to pronounce “leukodystrophy”.
The parents will also follow the debates about the “treatment” for me. Lawyers will argue about the ethics of it, whether they should be prolonging the life or attempting to save it. “Treatment”. As if I’m some bacteria, some virus. I’m just a genetic mutation.
But I can’t be sure, exactly. I was only born yesterday.
PART 2: The Making of the Mutation Story
- What questions did you need to research in order to create your mutation story?
- What does leukodystrophy mean? What does it really do?
- What are the physical symptoms?
- How is it caused? Is it inherited or spontaneous?
- What are the treatments?
- How can it arise in adulthood, while it is inherited by the parents and progresses quickly?
- Is it fatal?
- What new or familiar digital tools did you use while working on this project?
- I used foundation and clinic sites for research rather than mostly Wikipedia.
- I also used Wikipedia though, and only used information that was cited. Wikipedia is a handy resource.
- What was the process you used to investigate this topic?
- I Googled “leukodystrophy” and chose some sites that looked promising.
- As I read through them, I searched any terms I did not know and any other questions I had.
- How did you verify and cite the information you found?
- Most of the information I got was from the sites that would normally be used as a source, as they were the sites of foundations and clinics that specialised in this particular mutation. Wikipedia cited these sources as well.
- As for me citing them myself, the sources are at the bottom of this page.
- How did the process of completing this challenge go? What could you have done better?
- The assignment itself wasn’t necessarily difficult. I’m pretty good at writing stories and processing information, so that didn’t take very long, but I found I was worrying about the assignment because not much had been done up until Thursday. I probably shouldn’t have left it for so long, but the assignment did come during the busiest week of the semester.