I’m busy. Also, a Poem about Cancer.

On Tuesdays, I normally write a post about evolution or science.  Unfortunately,  I’m swamped this week.  My in-laws, parents, and sister are all visiting for my graduation from UMD.  Consequently, my wife and I are cranking out lab-work right now so we can actually spend time with our families later.  So no new post this week.  I’ll pick it up again next week when I critique of my own recent paper in BMC Evolutionary Biology.

In the mean time, I’ll just share an example of what I like most about science writing and why I am motivated to keep this blog: at it’s best, good science writing is both educational and extremely entertaining.  One great example is Cancer’s a Funny Thing, written by the eminent biologist JBS Haldane.  In it, Haldane discusses what it like to be diagnosed and treated for rectal cancer, all in humorous couplets reminiscent of Ogden Nash.

JBS Haldane

Cancer’s a Funny Thing

I wish I had the voice of Homer

To sing of rectal carcinoma,

Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,

Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.

Yet, thanks to modern surgeon’s skills,

It can be killed before it kills

Upon a scientific basis

In nineteen out of twenty cases.

I noticed I was passing blood

(Only a few drops, not a flood).

So pausing on my homeward way

From Tallahassee to Bombay

I asked a doctor, now my friend,

To peer into my hinder end,

To prove or to disprove the rumour

That I had a malignant tumour.

They pumped in BaS04.

Till I could really stand no more,

And, when sufficient had been pressed in,

They photographed my large intestine,

In order to decide the issue

They next scraped out some bits of tissue.

(Before they did so, some good pal

Had knocked me out with pentothal,

Whose action is extremely quick,

And does not leave me feeling sick.)

The microscope returned the answer

That I had certainly got cancer,

So I was wheeled into the theatre

Where holes were made to make me better.

One set is in my perineurn

Where I can feel, but can’t yet see ‘em.

Another made me like a kipper

Or female prey of Jack the Ripper,

Through this incision, I don’t doubt,

The neoplasm was taken out,

Along with colon, and lymph nodes

Where cancer cells might find abodes.

A third much smaller hole is meant

To function as a ventral vent:

So now I am like two-faced Janus

The only* god who sees his anus.

*In India there are several more

With extra faces, up to four,

But both in Brahma and in Shiva

I own myself an unbeliever.

I’ll swear, without the risk of perjury,

It was a snappy bit of surgery.

My rectum is a serious loss to me,

But I’ve a very neat colostomy,

And hope, as soon as I am able,

To make it keep a fixed time-table.

So do not wait for aches and pains

To have a surgeon mend your drains;

If he says “cancer” you’re a dunce

Unless you have it out at once,

For if you wait it’s sure to swell,

And may have progeny as well.

My final word, before I’m done,

Is “Cancer can be rather fun”.

Thanks to the nurses and Nye Bevan

The NHS is quite like heaven

Provided one confronts the tumour

With a sufficient sense of humour.

I know that cancer often kills,

But so do cars and sleeping pills;

And it can hurt one till one sweats,

So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.

A spot of laughter, I am sure,

Often accelerates one’s cure;

So let us patients do our bit

To help the surgeons make us fit.


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