For the past hour I have been captivated by the song ‘I can’t get no sleep’ by Faithless. For once it was not due to its catchy rhythm (thought I have to admit to having jiggled and wiggled a bit with it), but it was due to the only lyrics that anyone who has ever heard the song will remember: I-can’t-get-no-sleep. I thought they summed up quite well my state of mind (i.e.I can’t sleep). I thought I would be able to, especially since the events of the previous hour. It turns out that once again I am one with the pretty sparkling vampires: I can’t sleep, because I don’t sleep, because I will never sleep. Although unlike them, my problem isn’t that I am a vampire. I can’t sleep because I am a cancer cell. And cancer cells don’t sleep. Not ever? I hear you ask. No, not ever. Not even for a second. And it isn’t because there is no space for a comfy bed in the human body. Well, ok, technically, it is true that we suffer from a lack of bedding. But we also suffer from a lack of limbs, and that has never stopped us from anything.
I will not go so far as saying that healthy cells sleep, but I will have to admit that they do undergo this dormant stage called senescence, which us cancer cells have decided to overcome (surprise surprise). And whilst dormant cells do not technically sleep, they do, at one point in their lives, stop replicating. If you ever read any of my previous posts (particularly Hour 2: The cycle of life) you will know that us cancer cells instead live to replicate…so obviously we had to overcome this whole senescence non-sense. See, healthy cells have this thing called ‘telomeres’ attached to their DNA…Like a cell pedometer, though instead of counting our steps (which, as we can’t walk, would only count up to 0), it counts how many times our DNA gets replicated (1 every time a cell decides to split into two). Once it reaches a certain number, which changes according to which cell-type we are talking about, this cell-pedometer decides you’ve had enough of cloning your-self, and will from here-on-after remain a dormant cell: continue working as you always have, supporting your tissue or whatever, and stop creating more of your-selves. To me, this concept sounds amazing. Do you have any idea what it is like to be one of many, many cells exactly like you? And it’s not like I’m talking about identical twins, who look the same, but are not the same person. No. I’m talking about same insides, same outsides, same voice, same aim, so much so that you would never be able to discern which one of us came first (starting the trend of ‘who came first, the cell or the cell?’).
But alas no, us cancer cells don’t even get the luxury of being in any way unique at any point in our lives. And since our aim in life was to proliferate, of course we managed to get over the whole pedometer system. I am not going to bore you with the details of HOW we did that… we tricked the pedometer making it reduce the number it recorded, and again over-came the restraints of a functional P53 (see Hour 3: Chinese whispers). And so we made any form of dormancy and uniqueness a thing of the past, and moved on.
And this leaves us with only one more question to answer: If we don’t sleep, what do we do? Easy to answer for my fellow cancer cells: the same thing they do every day, try to take over the body. As for me, well, I do what most humans find them-selves doing in the middle of a sleepless night. When they are surrounded by that deafening silence that only the wee hours of the morning can grant you, and all dreams can seem so real, and all fears become terrors. I become one with the darkness, and let its calm seep into my pores. I try to keep all thoughts of despair at bay; after all, we are all soldiers in our own wars, and victory may not coincide with our own survival. I then pretend I can control the rhythm of the heart, the seeping of the fluids, the spinning of my own personal earth.
Let the night come with solace; let it heal the wounds of your days. Make it be your armour, your shield: an elusive guardian angel.