Sunday, May 20, 2012
The lives of cells~
This weekend has been a time of reflection. I celebrated two lives in different ways. I lost an old college buddy to cancer and attended a baby shower for a soon to be born tiny girl.
I started to think about life at its basest level, life as a cell. How we all begin our lives in the same way, cells growing, dividing, changing, creating. Then I thought of how similar and disparate cancer was; also cells growing dividing, changing but creating malignancy instead of life. One action: division, but two totally different outcomes. Or maybe not?
I looked up the words cancer and pregnancy in Wikipedia:
Cancer /ˈkænsər/ ( listen), known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a broad group of various diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. Not all tumors are cancerous. Benign tumors do not grow uncontrollably, do not invade neighboring tissues, and do not spread throughout the body. There are over 200 different known cancers that afflict humans.
Pregnancy: The sperm and the egg cell, which has been released from one of the female's two ovaries, unite in one of the two fallopian tubes. The fertilized egg, known as a zygote, then moves toward the uterus, a journey that can take up to a week to complete. Cell division begins approximately 24 to 36 hours after the male and female cells unite. Cell division continues at a rapid rate and the cells then develop into what is known as a blastocyst. The blastocyst is made up of three layers: the ectoderm (which will become the skin and nervous system), the endoderm (which will become the digestive and respiratory systems), and the mesoderm (which will become the muscle and skeletal systems). Finally, the blastocyst arrives at the uterus and attaches to the uterine wall, a process known as implantation.
The mass of cells, now known as an embryo, begins the embryonic stage, which continues until cell differentiation is almost complete at eight weeks. Structures important to the support of the embryo develop, including the placenta and umbilical cord. During this time, cells begin to differentiate into the various body systems. The basic outlines of the organ, body, and nervous systems are established. By the end of the embryonic stage, the beginnings of features such as fingers, eyes, mouth, and ears become visible.
Once cell differentiation is mostly complete, the embryo enters the final stage and becomes known as a fetus. The early body systems and structures that were established in the embryonic stage continue to develop. Sex organs begin to appear during the third month of gestation. The fetus continues to grow in both weight and length, although the majority of the physical growth occurs in the last weeks of pregnancy.
I marvel at how cells can divide and multiply within a body~ in one a life is created and grows, in another life is slowly leached away. How can one understand this mystery? How can one cell kill and another create?
I think of all the people I have lost due to cancer. I think of my husband who had malignant cells in his body and in their destruction he was given a new life. I think of this tiny baby nestled beneath her mother's heart suspended in time, floating, perhaps dreaming, waiting to draw her first breath. I think of my friend drawing his last breath whilst sleeping, suspended in time, perhaps also dreaming waiting to begin the next phase of his existence.
I reflect upon how many lives he touched, how many people from so many phases of my life are linked by the love he shared. I wonder at how many lives the baby girl will touch, how many lives she will link by the love she will share. I wonder at my presence in both these lives and I am humbled and awed. I have been blessed by knowing my friend. I shall miss him but I celebrate the joy he brought into the world. I pray that the baby soon to come will be also blessed to know joy and love and wonder.
I wonder if death is merely a different kind of birth. A birth where we transcend our bodies, were we fly free. Or perhaps a birth into a different world, a birth back to the source whence we came. Birth and death may not be so opposite as I once believed, perhaps they are only the flip side of the same coin. I do not know, nor profess to understand this mystery of life and death. I only know that I have been touched by each this weekend and I am crying tears of both grief and joy.
Rest in peace Homer. Welcome to the world Aubrey.