Ubiquitous Cancer

Sorry for the radio silence – things lately have been a whirlwind; both at work and home. I was in the process of writing a long post about the Hawthorn Half day I participated in a few weekends ago, but in light of recent events it seems insignificant. This past weekend a friend of ours died of cancer. It’s been so devastating and impossible to reconcile with the idea of ‘right’ and ‘fair’ that we have in our minds. I realize that those concepts are man made and have no meaning in reality.

I met Chelsea almost exactly one year ago. Her and her boyfriend, Alan, have been close friends with Scott for many years, overlapping in both the vegan community and running community. The day I met Chelsea really stands out in my mind because it happened on a day I was experiencing a deep low. I even wrote about it here. I was struggling with depression slowly creeping back over me, tangled up in anxiety and self doubt. This was before I started seeing a therapist again, but that day – simply meeting Alan and Chelsea turned it all around. We saw Alan briefly at an aid station of the ultra he was running. Chelsea was there with their dog to provide support and cheer him on. After Alan departed again, we hung out with Chelsea for a while and I got into quick conversation with her about science, nutrition and our obsessive running partners. She was so easy to talk to, friendly, laughing… all brightness.

I learned later from Scott that Chelsea had survived lymphoma a few years prior. But last fall, as a side effect of the radiation she received – a sarcoma developed. Surgery happened and was quickly followed by chemo, then another chemo when there was no response. Some of her treatment occurred in the hospital adjacent to my research lab so Scott and I were able to visit multiple times. Chelsea remained positive, sarcastic and humorous when we saw her, exactly the same as when I met her last May.

When chemo still didn’t illicit a response, she was referred to my own boss’s genomics clinic – a new clinical trial where the patients tumor is sequenced to see if there are more targeted medicines that can be used. The amount that my work and personal life overlap is not something I am fond of.

Scott and I were able to visit Chelsea last Thursday, and she still was able to laugh at the socks Scott brought her that said “fuck this shit” and “I don’t know, I’m high”.

I spent this entire past weekend at work, racing to finish some sequencing we’re doing for genetic markers for congestive heart failure, a rare but dangerous side effect that results from the chemotherapy adriamycin. Chelsea received this during her first treatments, and did experience rare heart damaging effects of this drug. I felt angry that science failed her. That technology itself was to blame for the sarcoma. But it also brought everything full circle – though my day to day research might seem insignificant, it ultimately aims to improve the quality of life of patients. Maybe this is just me trying to find meaning when there is none.

I only knew her briefly, but her impact was great. Chelsea – we are going to miss you.

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