April 20th, 2010
by kpickett

Frankenstein is by far my favorite novel.

When I’m not in the bathroom applying ointments containing sodium hydroxide to various parts of my groin to kill the fungus that won’t stop growing, or taking pills to satiate the nausea that pops up from time to time, or trying to get some work done, or sleeping (=what I mostly do these days), I watch TV.  Frankenstein was on earlier—the good one from 1994 that tells the story as Shelley wrote it—a story of a world on the brink of medical miracles, and of the hubris of such thoughts. Every time I read it, I find it more relevant.  As I’ve matured as a biologist, I see more and more genius in it.

Now with cancer, and having just seven days ago undergone a stem cell transplant to completely replace my native immune system—the one that’s been rebelling against me for at least four years—I see another layer to Frankenstein. On its face, it is a book as much about transplantation as reanimation.  Getting living parts from different people to happily co-exist must have been at least as perplexing to Shelley as getting long-dead tissue to come alive again. The latter is taken up by the book, and I am keenly focused on the former.

Stem cell transplants are nothing short of the vision—if small-scale—of Victor Frankenstein.  And, there has been some success with this procedure in the intervening 200 years.  Not so much that you’d run out and get a new, better immune system if yours wasn’t up to snuff, mind you.  These monstrous transplants are saved only for those who have no other options—like me.

So, after years of willingly taking into my body chemicals banned by various war crimes tribunals (that is, chemotherapies of many flavors), I’m left with two options:  Replace a very large, important part of me (all the cells in my blood, including my entire immune system) and hope for alternate ending to Shelley’s great work, or do nothing and have that rogue part of me kill the rest.

With great reluctance, I’ve chosen to take my chances with fire theft.

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