The Language of Cancer and the Language of God






Tumor markers. Monoclonal antibodies. Angiogenesis inhibitors. Stereotactic radiation. MediPort. Neutropenia. Micrometastases…So how are you doing with learning the cancer vocabulary?

Or how about the alphabet soup of acronyms?

CEA, PSA, KRAS, ER/PR, Her-2/neu, VEGF, and BRCA just to name a few.

Yikes! Someone please get me an interpreter or at least a dictionary! (Never mind the dictionary—I just hit spell check on my computer and it didn’t recognize most of the words in the first paragraph!)

I remember after my diagnosis I felt as if I was thrown into a whole new world I hadn’t even known existed and I would have been just as happy to stay oblivious about it! So many terms and phrases were tossed around and basically all I heard was: “You need chemo and radiation, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

But after a while I was forced to stick my head out of my shell and start to learn this foreign language. I discovered my colon cancer was classified back then as Duke’s C-2, meaning it had spread locally to more than three lymph nodes. I found out that 5-Fu was short for fluorouracil, a chemo drug that had been around for many years and no one in Marc’s practice but me had been allergic to it.

By the time I started working for Marc six years after my diagnosis, I had mastered a few of the oncology terms, but was still in for a real education as I worked for the first time in a medical office. I constantly had to ask the nurses for explanations of medical jargon I heard: What’s a DVT? I thought he had a blood clot?

“He does. DVT stands for Deep Vein Thrombosis.”

Why not BC for blood clot?

One day I noticed the nurse Ruth had written the initials “SOB.” next to a patient’s name on the daily schedule. I was curious why she would make such a disparaging remark about the gentleman as he didn’t seem that cranky to me.

Afterward I asked her and when she stopped laughing, she explained that “SOB” stood for “short of breath!”

My personal opinion is that doctors and nurses aren’t all that much smarter than the rest of us—they just have their own special foreign language so we patients don’t feel as bright! (To all my doctor and nurse readers—that was a joke!)

Anyway, I spent almost 20 years learning medical terms and especially oncology phrases so I could throw them around the evening dinner table with my husband: “So, we thought there was nothing we could do for the patient, but the immunohistochemistry showed KIT positive and it’s a GIST and we can use a tyrosine kinase inhibitor!  Isn’t that great news?!”

My husband barely could contain his excitement as he asked me to pass the salt.

Even though I may have gone a little overboard with learning the medical language, I have been amazed to learn about the human body’s intricacies. Our bodies are so complex that, in some ways, I’m not as surprised they break down, but am more surprised that they don’t break down more often!

The Human Genome Project completed in 2003 identified the 20,000+ genes in the human body and sequenced the 3 billion chemical base pairs that comprise our DNA or hereditary code of life. The head of the project, Dr. Francis Collins explains that the DNA in each human is 3 billion letters long and written in a “strange and cryptographic four-letter code.” The code is so complex, Collins says, that if someone were to read it out loud at three letters per second, it would take thirty-seven years!

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it! Psalm 139:13, 14

Collins is one of the world’s leading scientists and also a man of Christian faith who calls our DNA “the language of God.”

“We have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God,”[1] Collins said when the genome project’s completion was announced.

He later wrote: “Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible.”[2]

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. Psalm 139:15

So just maybe the next time you hear some multi-syllabic medical words that seem overwhelming, you can allow them to remind you that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Creator of the Universe and that your tomorrows are safe in His hands.

You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:16

Lord, Thank You for doctors and nurses and researchers who are trying to cure cancer and continue to write the new language of cancer. And thank you that our very DNA is “the language of God’  and speaks to us about how wonderfully we are made. In Jesus Name. Amen.

[1] Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, pg. 3, Francis S. Collins, Free Press, 2007

[2] Language of God, pg. 233.

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