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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How come I got a brain tumour?

One thing I can tell you for sure is that a Doctorate in Philosophy is totally useless when it comes to trying to diagnose my own medical complaints. I have been to ten times more doctors in the past ten months than in the whole of the rest of my life, and my diagnoses of my minor illnesses have been pretty much up to putty. I always had a good logic, or I thought I did, but it usually turned out to be totally wrong.

So when people who feel comfortable enough to do so ask me why I think I have this brain tumour – what actually caused it in the first place – you can be pretty sure what I say below counts for nothing. Your guess is as good as mine, maybe better. But, I can’t help pondering, of course, if for no other reason than if I knew, there’s a chance that knowledge could help someone else.

What would be really helpful would be to know the precise time that the rogue cell started to multiply. Was it a year ago, or ten, or has it been quietly but slowly reproducing itself since I was a child, until it reached that exponential level when all hell started to break loose? I don’t know, but if I did, it could surely eliminate some of the possibilities below. Here’s what I think they are. Feel free to add your own.

Mobile phones?

Firstly, that's one thing I doubt it could be. I have used mobile phones very sparingly compared with most people, though the tumour is in the left side where I would be more likely to have the phone to my ear. About 20 years ago I did have one of the first mobile phones – I called it a brick and it was about that size! It could pull in the signal from further away than some modern ones, even though there wasn’t such a complete network, so it must have been quite strong. Still, I have my doubts. And there’s nothing conclusive about any relationship anyway, between mobile phones and brain tumours, though I wouldn’t have had one stuck in my ear as long as many of you do, I have to say, and a lot of you better hope that there’s no nexus.

High voltage cable radiation?

Something makes me keep coming back to radio wave interference of one sort or another, and of course, we baby boomers have had plenty of that. When I was a child, a high voltage electric cable system passed through our property, one pole of which was very close to the house itself. On foggy mornings, the cable where it passed through the insulators on the pole would crackle audibly for as long at the moisture was around. There must have been quite a magnetic field emanating from those high voltage cables. That system was there for much of our childhood.

Microwave ovens?

We also had the first of the microwave ovens, and I don’t know how good their seals were protecting people from radiation from them.

Atmospheric atomic testing?

Atomic testing in central Australia in the 50s also meant that considerable radiation passed over the eastern coast of Australia. It was claimed to be harmless but we know what has since happened to those soldiers ‘volunteered’ to be in the vicinity of those atomic explosions.

Solar radiation?

Of course, we spent long periods out in the sun with little headwear as children, and who knows what radiation we absorbed from sunspot activity, solar flares or normal microwave radiation from the sun over the years. It only takes one cell to divide into a cancerous form to begin the process….


Baby boomers had notoriously bad dental health as children, as fluoride wasn’t in vogue in toothpaste and we didn’t have fluoridated water, as we used rain water. This often meant x-rays of the face when dentists investigated tooth decay, and I wonder how effective shielding was then and what dosage of x-rays we often received.

CRT screen radiation?

I also was one of the first to have a personal computer, in the early 1980s, as I could see its potential for word processing. [The internet was quite a way off at that time.] This was about composing articles, lectures, etc. I sat for very long periods in front of bright CRT screens at close range, and I wonder about the effect of those.

Carcinogenic chemicals?

Leaving aside radiowave activity as a possible cause, on farms in the 50s, there were many dangerous farm chemicals. On ours, for example, there was Rukream [I don’t know its proper name, just the trade name] which was a strong poison for dipping cattle – subsequently withdrawn from the market. I can smell it even now, as the air was full of it even in the dairy round dipping time, which was frequent as cattle ticks were a major problem.

We often got splashed by it as the cows plunged into the dip, or when we handled containers of it. We just washed it off, if we thought about it at all, and it didn’t seem to hurt us, but of course these are cumulative poisons, and carcinogenic. The warning labels were tiny and though we knew there were dangers, we took them lightly as far as skin contact was concerned. After dipping, we had to wash the cows’ udders prior to milking, and we just did that by hand, with cold detergent water. As well, sometimes heavy rain meant that the dip poisons got into the gullies below the plunge dip and ended up in the creek, where we swam and played, and drank the water.

I mention this specifically because my youngest sister Kay died of breast cancer two years ago. She had an excellent quality of life and did not smoke or eat the wrong foods, nor lived in an environment as an adult that would promote the possibility of cancer of any sort. Cancer of course often appears to be arbitrary in who and when it strikes, but she shared a childhood environment with me that had all those common characteristics. So I can’t help wondering.


Then there’s genetic predisposition to cancer, and there’s nothing all that indicative in our family. I realise how little I know about the cause of death of some of my immediate ancestors, not that I think it’s greatly helpful unless there’s a strong indication of predisposition to the disease. My mother survived till almost 90 with no indication of it, but her mother died of cancer in her early 60s. I don’t know for sure of anyone else in the family who died from it, but no more than in any other family, probably.

I don’t think there is a smoking gun here, but I do suspect there is a very long fuse.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, please share them.


  1. Denis, all of the above plus karma and bad luck. Not to mention living close to your alloted life span - 3 score and 10.

    For those of us who get to our sixties, it will most likely be cancer or heart disease that taps us on the shoulder when it's time to go. It used to be bacterial infections, viral diseases, and that curse of curse, childbearing. Most people didn't live long enough to get cancer or heart disease, and if they were taken by either early in life, no one knew what it was anyway. If it weren't for modern medicine, most of us over 50 would be dead by now.

    Gerard Allen, who had the same kind of tumour as you did, although in a far more unfortunate location (it took his mind first), blamed his mobile phone.

    My father managed an agricultural chemical plant and I grew up eating and breathing 24D, DDT, Deildrin, and Aldrin. My mother couldn't grow house plants because they all mutated and became deformed in that toxic air. I also worked in my father's factory during my summer vacations. Sooner or later, pay back will come to me. I'm surprised none of my family has developed cancer as a result. Perhaps the genetic predisposition has to be there first.

    We seem to be in a cancer epidemic, and I think all of the toxins, artificial hormones, and radiation in our environment, which are unnatural in their excess, are contributing. Not to mention the chemicals in our food, which accumulate in fat cells, and unfortunately are released into the blood stream when we are good little health-minded souls and lose weight.

    Soon, someone with GBM4 will go into remission because of advances and refinements in treatments. Denis, you could be that someone.

    As a famous saint once said, when the body can no longer support its karma, it goes.

  2. My theory is: Only the good die young.

  3. Dee: your theory may be as valid as any other! Mind you, there are a few dead crims that might be an exception to your rule. I am hanging in, so it partly supports your theory....
    Joan: I agree with a lot of what you say, and I think we've talked over some of them personally.
    I always thought 70 years was fair enough, and anything more would be a bonus, so if I don't make it that far I will feel a bit cheated, I admit. But others have fared far far worse in the longevity and quality of life stakes than I, even if I die tomorrow, so I can't really complain.
    You are quite right about modern medicine and what it's done to save lives. I doubt if my darling girls would be here now without it, nor Christian, and my mother would have succumbed decades before she did.
    I expect the cancer epidemic to continue, and in the 'developing' world as well, as I have seen in Bangladesh and in China.
    People are living longer through Avastin for brain tumours and reinforced by natural anti-angiogenesis treatments.
    The statement about karma is simply plain, logical truth.

  4. What are angiogenesis treatments?

    Karma isn't plain logical truth to everyone, otherwise we'd have an epidemic of better behaviour :).

  5. I think the best explanation of anti-angiogenesis treatment is here:
    but in a sentence, angiogenesis is the ability of cancer cells to reproduce. Anti-angiogenesis then is a treatment that inhibits cancer cells to reproduce. In my case it is consuming foods that have proven anti-angiogenesis qualities, and avoiding the ones that aid angiogenesis.
    The most dangerous food for brain tumour sufferers would appear to be items rich in refined sugar, which gives the tumour a nice old boost in reproductive capacity. So those kindly meant 'naughty' food gifts rich in sugar are not the best for me, I'm afraid.
    Good things? Blueberries, beetroot, red grapes, strawberries, green tea, green leaf veggies, cherries, and, the occasional red wine and very dark, almost sugarless chocolate - the bitter sort that doesn't taste all that great! There are more but that's off the top of my head, where I still have a bit of brain, I hope!

  6. PS People don't understand karma, wrongly translating the word as 'fate', which is absolute nonsense. Karma literally means 'action' so it's simply cause and effect and the interaction between them. Every action has a consequence, and anyone who denies this is loopy. Some actions we have a degree of control over, some we don't appear to. The trick in life is to understand causes and effects, not deny them, and change what seems sensible to change if possible and work with what you can't seem to change. Your last statement, Joan, is all too true.

  7. The problem in understanding karma in our culture is that the laws of Physics state that "for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction." Our refrigerators run on that principle. So do bad things, and good things come!!! :)

    We've forgotten "as you sow, so shall you reap", and instead are pondering, "am I my brother's/sister's keeper" and coming up with the answer "no". So we get the politics we create -- blow them out of the water, here in Oz. Workers in the US are angry that cheap or free healthcare is being forced on them,as though that's an infringement of their individual liberties. And they support millionaires' rights to low taxes because governments should mind their own business and let people get on with their individual rights to get super rich at the expense of everyone else. Bizarre.

    Meanwhile the laws of Buddha's physics, that all things arise from previous causes is not the philosophy of the West. Everything happens by chance; there is no meaning or consciousness, just dead matter.

    But I ramble,irrelevantly.

  8. ' do bad things, and good things come!!!' Whoops!! not quite how it works, is it? Of course, you're right. For one thing, we have a problem of defining what's good or bad. They're relative terms. I challenge anyone to come up with universal 'goods' or 'bads'.
    Please don't get me started on how governments paying for a good health system is 'bad' socialism while giving huge amounts of money to failed entrepreneurs and institutions is 'good' and somehow not 'socialism'.
    No, you don't ramble irrelevantly. Irrelevant to who or what? Even karma's 'cause and effect' is misleading, as cause can be effect. The potter makes the pot. Cause/effect. BUT the pot also makes the potter, because without the pot, there is no potter! Cause and effect intertwined.

  9. A famous Sufi story:

    A villager had a horse, uncommon wealth in his village, and his friends said, "Oh you are so lucky." "Maybe," the villager said.

    Then the horse ran away. His friends said,"Oh, how unlucky." "Maybe," the villager replied.

    The horse came back with 2 stallions. "Oh, you are a fortunate man," his friends said. "Maybe," replied the villager.

    His son trained the stallions, but got thrown and broke his leg. "Oh, how unfortunate," his friends commiserated. "Maybe," replied the villager.

    Then the Emperor's armies came through, taking all the young men to war, but the villager's son could not go because of his broken leg.

    And so it goes. What is good? What is bad? Who knows in the end?

  10. PS. I've changed my mind. $75 for a glass of champagne is not just bad, it's criminal.

  11. Isn't it funny - that same story is used in Huston Smith's The World's Religions practically word for word in his chapter on Daoism [Taoism], which would age it by 1500 years or more from the Sufi one. But then it's such a good story it's bound to pop up everywhere where people are trying to illustrate common sense. After all, Aesop's fables come through time and again in the Old Testament, the Asokavadharna, the Ramayana, Chinese and Japanese myths and the Norse sagas - because human beings encounter the same situations in life no matter what part of the world they currently inhabit....

    Re your PS - YES! You can buy a whole bottle of Moet for that price! :) **joke**

  12. Asokavadhana - or Ashokavadhana - I mean. Academic pedantry I can't get away from....

  13. Asoka- It's pronounced Ashoka, but spelled Asoka with a diacritical mark underneath the s to indicated which of the 3 Sanskrit sibilants it is :).

    How's that for academic pendantry.

    I assumed the story was a Sufi story because it came from a Buddhist who usually uses Sufi stories to illustrate his teaching points -- Jack Kornfield. However, he did say that the village was in China, so that should have given it away.

    For $75 you can get 3 casks of decent plonk.

  14. Yep, but it's not easy to display diacritics in online fonts!

    For $65 you can get online a carton of a dozen top quality export reds [because of the wine glut here in Oz at the moment!] I'll take the cab savs over the Moet, especially as it's supposed to be anti-angiogenetic!

  15. So.....the bottle of Moet in the fridge is all mine then? :-)

  16. This b*stard just deleted my post, for some bizarre reason. Jinx again.

    What I said was that the diacritical mark should go above the s. I got the sibilant wrong. To those in the know, Asoka is fine as even Ashoka is not entirely correct, ruling out only one of the three sibilants.

    Finally found a use for all that Sanskrit study.

    Where do I get the cheap online wine?

  17. We could learn a lot from Ashoka about how to rule a country, until he got old and crotchety. I always spelt his name like this so students would get closer to the Sanskrit than 'Asoka'.

    Will email you re the cheap wines!


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