In front of my house is a crescent shaped perennial garden. Though small in size, it gives me endless entertainment, both in tending to its needs and musing on its ecology.
Each spring I purchase a sampler of perennials. Every year brings surprises. 2012 gave me a complementary trio of color with coreopsis, valerian, and Lucifer’s tongue.
The irrigation for the yard comes from a funky system, gravity fed from a stream that is miles away. The ancient metal pipe narrows on its descent to our property. Once here, it attaches to an even smaller plastic pipe generating pressure adequate enough to water our trees and gardens. Radiator clamps hold the fittings together.
The two hose bibs I use to water the garden both leak. It’s not enough to cause a puddle but the soil next to the pipe stays moist through the dry season and supports a healthy ground cover. Two large rhododendrons shade the damp spots, creating an environment sufficiently wet to attract a frog.
No doubt, my cold blooded pioneer smelled the water and hopped toward the opportunity. The habitat seems to suit him, as this is the third year I’ve heard his distressed gargle of a croak. And, why not, the flowers attract bugs, the soil is wet enough for his amphibious jacket, and there are no snakes seeking their own opportunities. He’s found balanced natural surroundings that support his needs.
The microenvironment of our bone marrow has similar characteristics. It consists of a moist fertile soil that nurtures all the components of our blood system. The rich environment serves as a safe haven for normal blood cells, and ironically, for malignant cells as well.
The cancer I have is multiple myeloma. The malignancy is specific to plasma cells, a variety of white cell critical to maintaining a healthy immune system. Patients diagnosed with the precursor MGUS, may harbor cancerous cells for years without treatment. The cozy environs of our bone marrow support this phenomenon.
The same can be said for those with smoldering or indolent myeloma. However, without treatment, these stages of the disease compromise the bone marrow environment. The loss of ecological balance leads to systemic problems.
Why do the plasma cells become malignant in the first place? Researchers don’t know for certain. Some patients may be predisposed due to irregularities in their DNA. Others may have experienced exposure to toxins in the larger environment that led to errors as blood stem cells created new supplies.
Cancer, like my extraordinary garden frog, migrates to opportunity. The perfect correlation of elements appeared in my garden and matched a frog’s adaptive purpose. That symmetry is essential to life. Cancer, on the other hand, finds opportunity in weakness. And, left unchecked, it upsets the symmetry wherever it appears.
Last evening, I drenched the area by the rhododendrons. I was anticipating the 90-degree temperatures forecast for today. When finally, I shut off the sprinkler, my amphibious friend emitted a single croak. I realize his indifference to my activities. Nonetheless, I’ll accept this announcement as a thank you.