The Topic of Cancer
One disease is worse than the rest.


(permanent link) added: 2011-11-15 06:47:32 sponsor: InsomniacWeasel (last reply: 2011-12-04 02:34:25)

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"CANCER?! DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT A CANCER IS?! CANCER IS A SMALL PIECE OF DEATH THAT SLOWLY TAKES OVER A BODY!"
--Shouty Guy from Mondo Medicals explains cancer.

There are all manners of terrible diseases out there, deadly and incapacitating, annoying and disfiguring, and even a few truly horrifying fates worse than death.

But in the world of fiction (and according to popular belief, in real life as well), one disease stands tall and terrible above the rest- a disease so deadly, so silent, so inevitable, so evil, that it's very name has become synonymous with death. A disease who's mere mention provokes feelings of foreboding terror, disgust and paranoia in modern humans: the dreaded Malignant Neoplasm, or in layman's terms, Cancer.

There are countless types of cancer, but all share the same defining nature: in a cancer, the reproduction of cells goes out of control. Instead of dividing and multiplying in an orderly fashion, as they should, the cells multiply chaotically and violently without stopping, invading nearby parts of the body, and sometimes even spreading further through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Ideally, cells have several countermeasures against such a destructive chain reaction starting, many emergency fall-back mechanism meant to destroy the out of control cell before it can cause damage, but once in a while, those emergency killswitch mechanisms fail.

The causes of cancer are numerous, and can include anything from old age, to exposure to certain chemicals (such as the ones found in cigarette smoke), to exposure to great amounts of radiation (this association with the evils of nuclear power or weapons may be part of the reason for the fear of cancer underlying modern society's perception) to sheer bad luck. The truth is, that in the end, nobody can say for sure who will have cancer and when. Right now, your father may be developing cancer, or your girlfriend, or your dog. Even if they've never even went near Hiroshima or Chernobyl, even if they don't smoke, even if they live in a sterile bubble, they may still develop cancer. There is no way to tell for sure without checking, and even if they turn out not to have cancer right now, nothing can assure that they won't develop one tomorrow, or in three minutes.

It could happen to anyone, any time, and they would die a slow, excruciating death as their bodies destroy themselves from the inside because of a tiny programming error in the coding of a single cell that prevented it from ever hearing the order to "stop multiplying". There would be few symptoms in the beginning, all of them easy to miss, but towards the end Body Horror will hit in full force as the tumors, black and slimy or bloated and red would become visible over the skin. Or perhaps, they never will, and all you would see is the patient writhing in agony for days before finally finding release in death. Or they could just go out with a single seizure, out of the blue...

Even if the cancer is discovered and medical treatment is available, the fact that a cancer is essentially an out of control aspect of the living body means that the only way to treat it effectively is to kill the growing body. Chemotherapy for cancer involves intentionally poisoning a person just enough not to kill them, but to (hopefully) kill the tumors growing in them. The side effects are horrific: over the course of the long, long treatment, chemotherapy and radiotherapy will cast the patient down into the dark depths of the Uncanny Valley, causing them to slowly and painfully lose anything they had of the image of a healthy human being. Hair will fall, nails will break, fat will disappear. They will vomit, and they will wither, and they will cry silently as they are transformed into pale, skinny mockeries of the human form not by a disease, but by the cure, helplessly watching this cruel world from behind lifeless, sleepy eyes.

In it's core, a cancer is the perversion of the things we hold most sacred on the most fundamental level: reproduction, life, growth, fertility. The brightest and most wonderful things in nature twisted and mutated into something frightening, something repulsive and wrong by a mindless, faceless force that still somehow manages to seem outright malevolent. It is not surprising that just by mentioning the word "cancer", any instance biological horror may instantly become scarier, any scientific experiment more taboo, any associated magic or power evil.

Note that this trope isn't just for cases of cancer appearing in fiction: The Topic Of Cancer means that the word, term, or very concept of cancer is used specifically to evoke that semi-rational, paranoid terror and revulsion and creepiness that are associated with cancer, or with implications that cancer is somehow worse in some way than other diseases of conditions.
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