Saturday, October 24, 2015

Parallels between Alien Megastructures and My Family's Cancers

I got a message from my Mom yesterday.  Her kidney cancer has returned.  It was dormant after they performed a radiograph on it in 2012.  This time it has started to grow through the wall of the kidney.  She's meeting with her surgeon on November 16th to find out when they'll schedule her to remove the kidney.  
My Mom and Dad were supposed to come to California this Thanksgiving to visit.  Now they'll have to wait and see what the surgeon says.  If they schedule the surgery for after Thanksgiving, then they'll still come out.  If she goes into the hospital right away, then they won't.  We're waiting to see.  
This is the fourth Thanksgiving in a row where cancer has been an uninvited and unwelcome guest.  The two years previous to this one, 2014 and 2013, I went to North Carolina to visit the eldest of my two younger sisters for Thanksgiving.  She was dealing with lung cancer both times.  She was diagnosed in 2013, had surgery to remove half of her left lung, went through radiation therapy as a follow-up, had two follow-up MRIs that were clean.  They found a new tumor in her chest, too close to the aorta for surgery, went through months of aggressive chemo-therapy at the end of which the tumor had shrunk to a tenth of its size and was still shrinking.  They decided that the tumor was dead and was being cleaned up by the body.  She has since gone back to work.  Her and her husband have bought a new house, the first time they'll live in the same place for years (his work and her treatment center were several hours apart).  They move in after next week.  
In 2012 I went to visit my Mom and Dad for Thanksgiving.  They had discovered her kidney cancer a few weeks before.  I went along with Mom and Dad on her doctor visits.  They had decided to perform what I believed they called a radiograph on her.  They made a small incision, inserted what amounted to a small radio antennae into her body, pointed it at the top half of her kidney, and jolted it with energy.  It essentially cooked the upper half of her kidney where the cancer was primarily located.  It was supposed to kill the cancer without having to remove the kidney.  The lower half of the kidney would continue to function normally.  For months after her treatment, Mom went back for CAT scans and MRIs to look at the tumor.  It was still there, but it never changed.  The doctors decided that it was a husk of the tumor they were looking at, and that the tumor was probably dead.  
It looks like they were wrong.  Or maybe they were right and a new tumor rose up to take its predecessor's place.  It took the extra time between follow-up visits to make its way to the kidney wall and open up a spot a few millimeters in size.  Because of this, removing the rest of the kidney is the proscribed option.  
Oh...  During all of this, my Dad got kidney cancer too.  His was in the right kidney (Mom's was in the left).  They performed the same procedure they did on Mom on his tumor.  The immediate outcome was pretty much the same.  The only difference is that his cancer didn't happen during Thanksgiving.  
Would you think I'm being a little selfish and snippy if I said that my perception of Thanksgiving has soured over the past four years?  It used to be my favorite holiday as an adult, replacing Christmas years upon years ago when I stopped being a kid.  The company I work for years ago made Thanksgiving a four-day weekend, giving us the following Friday off along with the holiday.  It was way too easy to take the proceeding three days off and have a week's vacation just like that.  One with a feast built into it.  I was especially looking forward to this Thanksgiving, having my Mom and Dad, my youngest sister and her two boys, in town to spend time with.  And, it was going to be a cancer free Thanksgiving, I had thought to myself, now that my other sister had gotten through her two year struggle with the disease.  
It didn't work out that way, it seems.  Not only is cancer back, but it may keep my Mom and Dad from coming out.  It depends on what the surgeon decides.  We'll see.  
I don't like having doctors decide my holiday schedule.  Just putting that on record. 
This week there was a science news story that I thought was pretty exciting when I heard about it.  The Kepler Space Telescope has spotted a star with an unusual light curve.  The light curve is normally used to detect exoplanets.  When a planet passes in front of the star it orbits, the amount of light reaching us dips down.  After the planet completes its transit, the light goes back up.  A round, planet-shaped thing produces a smooth curve in the light.  The bigger the curve, the larger the planet.  
The light from the star in question, which is referred by its catalogue name of KIC 8462852, is very different.  It's not smooth.  And the dip is huge, blocking out 20% of the planet's light by at least one account I've read.  Some astronomers think it might be a huge swarm of objects, like cloud of comets flying by at the right now, or a densely packed asteroid field.  But the other theory being offered, which is getting the most news, is that it might be something artificial.  It could be a huge, alien "megastructure."  Something built, or being built, to capture the light from the star and convert it to energy.  
KIC 8462852 is too far away for radio signals to reach us, if anyone was out there sending any.  There are scientist trying to get radio telescopes pointed toward it just in case.  And the star is fifteen hundred light years away.  Any signal we did pick up now would have been one sent about the time the Kingdom of the Franks, a precursor to modern France, was established and the Mayans established the city of Tikal.  I read at least one scientist offer the opinion that it IF it is an alien structure, it could very well be an old one.  Maybe even an abandoned one.  A remnant of a space-faring culture that swept through space, built their equivalent of the pyramids for us to get a peak at, and they moved on, vanishing with time, taking no notice of us bashing each other with swords and maces on our little blue planet.  
It may be a husk.  What's left over from something long dead.  
Well, whatever it is, we can only wait and see.  The scientists, doctors of a different sort, will be taking their readings, getting whatever samples they can, to take their best guess (which is all they can do) as to what it is out there.  If they decide that the only theory that fits all the data points to the first solid evidence that there is something alive out there in that tiny spot of light in the sky, then my advice is...  Leave it be.  There is no telling what might come crawling out of tiny spots you see in the data you have, whether its on a space-telescope's light curve graph, or on a CAT scan taken from somewhere in one's body.  The only difference is that, out there, it will take so long to get here that me, and anyone reading this, will be too long gone to care.  
Well after this coming Thanksgiving.  I hope.   


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