Fire with Fire

What better adversary to the scourge of the deadly disease of cancer than another deadly disease…HIV.

What we’ve learned how to do is train the immune system to recognise and kill tumor cells” describes Dr. Carl H. June of the University of Pennsylvania. And that tutor is the HIV virus. Genetically modified so as not to infect the patient with HIV. Not too far of a mental leap from basic immunization which injects people with the disease it wishes to make you immune to only this procedure is about a thousand times more complex.

And, it is the also failure of treatment that is actually enabling these breakthrough innovations. As such an approach is so risky, that at this stage they can’t be justified for use on any patients who might have a higher chance of better outcomes with other therapies available.

  • Patients that we are treating in this clinical trial are patients who have absolutely no other options left for them. These are patients who are unfortunately destined to die of their disease and in a fairly short amount of time.”

Fortunately, for all of us but especially patients like Emma showcased in the video, these radical approaches have worked advancing our knowledge of how to refine them and progress them taking us ever closer to a cure for cancer.

(thanks Missy)


Tragedy Plus Time

“With humor, the equation is ‘tragedy plus time equals comedy.” – Tig Notaro

Tig Notaro turned the worst day of her life into a historic classic of performance comedy.

Opening the line “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer” (The clip above features the jaw-dropping first three minutes of her now infamous set. You can purchase the entire performance on iTunes). She goes on to explain:

  • I had this bacteria eating my digestive tract…Please bear with me. It’s so hard because right now in my life because right now when I have a show I don’t want to talk about how funny it is that a bee was taking the 405 freeway…because (everyone relax), my mother just died…Tragically too! She was 65, tripped, hit her head – died. A week after I got out of the hospital – ’m doing okay…So the timeline – I was in the hospital for a week with CDIF. Got out out. A week later my mother died. Then – I know it’s hilarious – then I went through a breakup. Right in the middle of it all. It’s tough times…you can’t stick around for that…All of it just turned into cancer.”

I’ve always said that there is a line to be drawn in embracing failure. There is failure and there is tragedy. I guess the difference is that the learning and dividends of “failures” outweigh the costs of the failures themselves. But with “tragedies”, the cost is so great, that no amount of growth can compensate for the loss. And yet, despite the extraordinary series of tragic events that Tig suffered, she still managed to turn it into one of the most inspired and inspiring comedic pieces in the history of stand-up.

This weekend starts off the “Race for Life” season where thousands of women face their own extreme physical challenges (especially with the introductions of “tough mudders” in the mix) to raise money to fight the scourge of cancer. As a friend of a recent cancer survivor, I am witness to the success this research is having to save lives. Especially to add “time” to the equation of those lives so more of that “tragedy” can become “comedy”.

Best Work

Gapingvoid - failure option

Happy 15th Birthday to Gapingvoid. I probably celebrate the anniversary of Hugh’s brainchild venture more than he does. But then, he is someone who celebrates embracing failure more than just about any blogger (except me, obviously). I’m taking this occasion to share a couple of my favourite gems. So many of my RSS feeds I once subscribed to have died or fallen by the wayside over that decade and a half since we would get together for coffee meetups and beer crawls in London (the latest casualty is Scott Adams who has fallen into a dark place of Trump apologia). But Hugh remains as fresh, dynamic and edgy as he was from the outset. Keep ‘em coming.

Gapingvoid - best work

How to Turn a Wound into a Wizard

Harry Potter mark

International Harry Potter Day that is also known as “The Anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts”. One battle scarred fan deftly turned his wounds into a badge of honour. Buzzfeed article “A Mom Turned Her Self-Conscious Son’s Cut Into A Magical Lightning Bolt” reports:

  • “Ayden had an unfortunate fall last Tuesday night. He jumped on a pile of laundry and cut his forehead on the side of the bed frame. Ayden was so self-conscious about the cut the next day he didn’t want to leave the house, said Benesh. ‘I kept asking him if I could see it under the Band-Aid and he kept covering it,’ said Benesh. Then she got the idea to take advantage of Ayden’s love for dress up to help him embrace his cut. ‘I asked if he’d like to be Harry Potter,’ said Benesh. ‘And he said ‘Yeah!’’”

Failure embracing advocate JK Rowling would be proud.

Riffing off Mistakes

If you always sound good in the practice room, you’re probably not doing it right.” – Unknown

Jazz Day today is a time to celebrate the musical genre that more than any other celebrates failure. It’s spontaneity and invention means “Every mistake is an opportunity in jazz” according to Stefon Harris in his virtuoso TED talk “There are no mistakes on the bandstand”.

Embracing Foolure

Gapingvoid - Fool

April Fools Day is the chance to embrace the fool in all of us. I always loved the irony of the Shakespearian fool character who always spoke the most honest and insightful words. Another fan of the “Fool” is Seth Godin who often writes about the power of foolishness…

  • “It’s ever more tempting to put on the (metaphorical) clown suit. It allows you to provoke with impunity. Clowns enjoy a different relationship with the laws of physics. You can spray someone in the face with a seltzer bottle, hit them with a pie or tweak them, and then laugh about it. No one is allowed to comment on the size of your shoes or how many people you’re packing in that car or the weak link between you and reality. Crowds gather and no one takes the implications of what you say seriously, but they cheer. Tricksters change our culture. Noisy voices get more followers in social media…The challenge, as PT Barnum, Don Rickles and the National Enquirer have found, is that while the suit is easy to put on, it’s almost impossible to take it off. After a while, people start to notice that you’re not actually keeping your promises.” – The clown suit
  • Actually, it’s far more likely that you made a human of yourself. When you drop your guard, opt for transparency and make an honest connection with someone, you’re right on the edge of foolishness, which is another word for not-corporate, not-aloof, not-safe. Another word for human. Most of the time, we persuade ourselves not to make a fool and so instead, we shut down a connection that could have become precious for us and for them.” – "I just made a fool of myself"
  • If you do something remarkable, something new and something important, not everyone will understand it (at first). Your work is for someone, not everyone. Unless you’re surrounded only by someones, you will almost certainly encounter everyone. And when you do, they will jeer. That’s how you’ll know you might be onto something.” – “When you do work that matters, the crowd will call you a fool

Failing is Awesome

Pain is weakness leaving the body” – Marine motto

Sometimes toppling over can be a bit more painful. But no less useful – or “awesome” – as New Zealand BMX rider Sarah Walker describes…

  • Failing is awesome. If you don’t fail, you’re not really pushing it. You’re not really pushing the boundaries to see what is possible. I crashed in practice at the world championships and that was the last chance to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games and in the moment, every single day that I am riding my bike. It was proof that I was giving 100% and there was nothing more I could do. It’s part of the story and it’s part of what makes me who I am.”

Her outlook reminded me of Minda Zetlin’s article “Want a Lifetime of Better Brain Function? Science Says Change This 1 Habit (It’s Not What You Think)”:

  • It comes down to this: Stop only doing what’s easy and pleasant. If you’re in a great routine at work, break out of it by adding new responsibilities. If you’ve got an effective workout that you can do without even giving it much thought, add some new elements or up the ante by making it longer and more intense. In short, do stuff that’s difficult. Challenge yourself, and keep challenging yourself until you encounter enormous frustration. And then push on through that frustration and try some more. Whether you actually achieve your objective isn’t the point–the point is to push yourself just a little beyond your limits. In other words, get outside your comfort zone. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the limits you push are mental or physical. Both strenuous physical effort, such as a challenging hike, or strenuous mental effort, such as mastering a difficult math equation, will do the trick. Barrett points to the Marine motto, ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’.”

Embrace the discomfort zone.