Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Hour 14: The hallmarks of freedom -Part II

Dear diary,

the initial revelations had my mind whirling in every direction. Who was Neo? How did I get here? Who was I, really? But there was no time for thought now. As Selena carried on with the story, all I could do was stare, enthralled.

'But it still wasn’t enough for Neo. He wanted him and his twisted other halves to grow even more. Only to do that, he needed its surrounding cells to release more growth factors. And, as I mentioned before, nobody seemed too keen on releasing them. That’s when he started to speak, whispers so loud they carried over different organs, and caused our host to stop and wonder where the noise was coming from. He spoke of freedom, of a world where there were no constraints, where a cell could be where it wanted and do as it pleased. He spoke of progenies so big they would last generations, of travelling to other parts of the body, of alliances between immune systems and blood vessels and cells. His words made us dream of immortality, of not having to undergo senescence. He made healthy cells rebel against their constraints. He promised in exchange for growth factors, he would give us our freedom.'

'Initially very few cells responded. Most were afraid of the repercussions…what if the immune cells decided to respond and engulf them all? But eventually his words and ideals poisoned enough minds for him to gain a so called 'support group'…healthy cells that were willing to help him in his quest. Scientists call this the tumor ‘stroma’. They were like hypnotised cells, releasing more and more growth factors, allowing Neo to proliferate disproportionately. He made so many cells he eventually lost count, and started naming them all ‘Cell X’. That’s why I got scared when I heard your name. I…I thought he might have returned.' 

Her voice broke. The look of pain returned in her eyes, and I started feeling cold. There it was, my true identity. Cell X, just one of the many cells created by Neo. Selena had inadvertently given me the key to my past, what I had been searching for, and yet all I suddenly wanted to do was to give it back. I concentrated on composing my face, keeping my terror at bay. Amid the turmoil of emotions, I felt my curiosity burn stronger. I needed to know. I just needed to know. 

‘So what happened next? Did they catch him?’ I asked, focusing on keeping my tone light. She looked up, and I suddenly realised her eyes were filled with tears. But her face was no longer sad. Her pupils blased with a fury only grief could cause, and before she spoke, I understood. Dread filled me as I heard her truth:

‘I lost my mother cell to that…that…’ she hesitated, her words filled with emotion. ‘cell. She was wonderful, X. She was so so wonderful. Kind, and caring…and so.. alive, so full of life! She made everything seem simple...I remember all I wanted to do was hide in her embrace, because I knew there I would be safe. No organism was able to resist her, like they could smell her goodness. And she was so cool, always urging us on, confident for us when we weren't, ready to pick us up whenever we fell. I am who I am because of her, and…’ she stopped, wanting me to understand ‘I don’t know who to be without her.’ 

Again, she paused, staring at me intently. I don't know what she was looking for ...Maybe for a fragment of her mother cell, wanting to believe part of her would live on. I tried to convey my sympathy with my eyes. I tried to give her the warmth she was longing for so desperately. I forgot all that I was, and tried to become the cell she needed me to be. I wished I could have somehow touched her. She stared at me for a long time, searchingly. Her anger and pain slowly subsided, and eventually her expression became stern. She could go on.

‘They were dark times, X. Neo was gaining stromal cells by the day…To this day I don’t know how he did it, but cells were just changing their minds in a split second. It was as if he was hypnotising them! Cells close to us were beginning to turn, and nobody seemed to be able to stop this reign of terror. Where were the immune cells? Where were the people who were meant to protect us? Time stood still as we waited, unable to escape, unable to move, for it to be our turn. We knew the messages were close when a few of my sisters became stromal cells. I knew then that it would be my turn soon, and I turned to my mother cell with a look of proud defiance. I was not going to go without a fight. My mother cell response startled me. I expected fear, or anger. Instead there was pleading and sacrifice. Before I could ask, Neo's signalling molecules reached us. As my mother cell shifted, shielding me from Neo’s influence, I understood. She had given herself, she had became tumor stroma, so that I would stay Selena.'

She paused again, and I stared at her, in awe of this mother cell that had given herself to save Selena. Speech-less, I tried to imagine what it would've been like to have such a cell to fight for you. I pictured the happy times she recalled, that I had never seen. I was startled when Selena continued her story.

'Of course, I spend hours trying to revert my family back to healthy cells. All in vain. It was as if they were blind and deaf…nothing I did helped. Then one day the immune cells finally reacted. It was a day of chaos, where immune cells blindly scavaged, barely checking for ID. It was all I could do to keep myself safe. When the chaos cleared, I realised a lot of stromal cells and tumor cells had been lost...including my mother cell. Although I had lost her long before that. Things quieted down after that…Neo stopped being so exuberant. Tumor cells disappeared gradually. Stromal cells stopped being converted.'

'So what happened to him? To Neo?' I asked.
'I don’t know what became of him… some say he has found ways to evade the immune system and is still growing in the shadows. Others say he may have lost his growth factor supply and eventually underwent senescence.'
We were quiet for a moment, each lost in thought. All these revelations swirled incoherently in my mind, and I was afraid I might explode. I didn't want to think. I just wanted to remain the cell I thought I was for a little while longer.

Eventually, Selena looked at up at me.
‘You are not a tumor cell, right?’ She asked slowly. She knew. I knew she knew. But she didn't want to know. And I didn't want to be. 
‘No.’ I answered reassuringly. 
‘And you would tell me if you knew one, right?’ she continued. 
‘Of course.’ I replied smiling. 
‘Promise?’ She whispered. 
‘Promise’. I nodded.

I wondered why in that moment we both felt the need to find reassurance in lies, like little children desperately clinging to fairy-tales. Maybe we both knew I was different, and it just wasn’t time to admit all truths.

Cell X

No comments:

Post a Comment