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The Desert as Cancer: Treatment strategies

 
Posts: 44
Location: Las Vegas
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I heard a speaker once describe the desert as a cancer. I'm an oncology nurse, and I grew up in and currently live in the desert. So, that statement made complete sense to me! I started to make connections in my mind from my knowledge of one subject to the other. The issues really lined up in a parallel way, which excited me.

What is cancer? Any cell type can become mutated (in multiple, and different ways) to either become cancerous or allow cancer to continue. Cancer is basically OUT OF CONTROL growth.
Why have many of our deserts started? OUT OF CONTROL agriculture, poor land management, or resource exploitation.

The cancer cells use up nutrition and take up space so that the body suffers from lack and restriction of normal processes. If unchecked by the bodies own immune system or treatment, this lack and restriction will lead to death.
Deserts lead to the wasting of resources, water, soils (through being uncultivated or washed away) and limit the usable, fertile area on our world. The land becomes degraded until it is no longer able to support significant life.

Cancers spread. Deserts spread.

So, nice comparison, but what is the use of this thought? I'm glad you asked! When I first started thinking down this path, I was considering how strategies and goals for cancer treatment could be used in a similar, parallel way for deserts. The basic goals of treatment did kind of line up: working towards remission, or non-progression. Slowing desert growth or shrinking deserts is a great goal! However, the individual medications didn't have a good comparison, and here is why.... if the techniques of cancer treatment were used in a parallel fashion to treat desertification.... the surrounding land would be damaged as well. I don't expect this to have much bearing for anyone else, but this is an important thought process for me, and you may find it intriguing, too. Many modern cancer treatments are made to look less wise when examined in the light of permaculture principles. However, please keep in mind as I share my thoughts.... I've seen people go into remission from cancer from chemo. It does have benefits! There is more research into its effects on cancer than any alternative treatment. So please take my thoughts as general, and don't make any specific treatment decisions you need to make based on it.

Let me give an example of a modern treatment. Anti-neoplastic chemotherapies such as Cytoxan, Fluorouracil, Gemzar, Abraxane, Oxaliplatin, Paclitaxel, Taxotere… the list is LONG... Kill things. Well, they stop them from being able to complete processes during cell replication... thus killing them. In one way this is good, because the Mitotic index (speed of cell replication) in cancer is higher than in normal cells. However, some healthy cells get collateral damage as well, and people have died from the chemotherapy treatments. So, the basic strategy of anti-neoplastic chemo is.... out of control growth in one area? Stop growth Everywhere!

What if we took the problem of out of control land management causing deserts and applied a similar strategy? Let's say that there are two farmers on plots of land next to eachother. One does modern farming, his name is Bob. Bob uses harmful land management principles that can lead to desertification. The other one is Sepp Holtzer himself! When Bob does something harmful to the land like tilling, he gets struck by lightening! Just like chemo hurts cancer, Bob is getting hurt every time he does something deemed harmful to the land. All the lightening knows is that if the ground gets broken, it must strike! So strike Bob it does..... over, and over, and over. In one week, Bob gets struck by lightening 32 times for disturbing the soil. One day, Sepp decides that he needs to do a new earthwork and breaks soil. This is a good thing! I mean, Sepp uses earthworks to benefit the environment. However, the lightening doesn't know that. So, while stepping on the blade of his shovel to start a new Hügelkultur bed, Sepp gets struck by lightening, too.

How does this modality of treatment; non-discriminant interference of a single process which can be both good or bad, make any sense in the farm illustration? It doesn't. Bob may have gotten hit by lightening more than Sepp, but Sepp still got hit by lightening. Healthy cells still get damaged with anti-neoplastic chemotherapy. People get weak, and sick, and sometimes die from chemo. I have never liked that, but like I mentioned earlier, I've also seen it work wonders! So I can't call it all bad.

Want to know something interesting? If you use the de-desertification principles in Permaculture and run a parallel to cancer treatment.... the person gets healthier, stronger, strong enough for natural processes to kill the cancer within. What happens when you green the desert? You stop the waste of resources by slowing water, by using fertile land that was too dry to be of use. You input good things into the damaged areas and let the systems of nature do their thing. You don't punish any bad thing... you just encourage the good things.

There are other treatments for cancer which have shown some incredible results: high dose vitamin C therapy, extreme diet cleansing, fasting, to name a few. These all strengthen the body, the good parts of the body, so that it can fight the cancer itself. Now, there are other mainstream cancer treatments which help in this. Immunotherapies and targeted therapies like Herceptin, Perjeta, Nivolumab, Keytruda, Rituximab, help the body's own immune system to better target cancer and kill it. That is pretty cool! There are some toxicities and issues with Immunotherapies as well.

I was hoping that this thought process of the parallel between the Deserts and Cancer would lead me to clever modalities of de-desertification. However, it did the opposite. It made me consider the best modality of cancer treatment. I know that eventually, my passion for stopping cancer won't be lived out in a chemo room. Again, I hope that anyone facing cancer does a lot of research to see what is best for your particular case. These are general thoughts I need to process in my own growth as a medical professional and someone who questions the status quo. I'm excited to see where else the simple, wise tenets of permaculture will take my thoughts.

Now leaving the maze that is Kelly's mind.... Come back soon!

Kelly B. RN OCN
 
pollinator
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Hi Kelly,

I haven't been hit by lightning yet, but if I were in the cab of my backhoe building a pond the lightning might not hurt me if I had on sneakers . Probably wouldn't do the backhoe much good.

How about cancer as an invasive species, and the way to get rid of the invasion is by improving the soil?
 
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I'm not convinced I like the metaphor of "the desert as cancer."  "Desert" is a classification of some naturally occurring ecologies.  "Desertification" is a cancer, but not "desert" in my opinion.
 
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I see it this way, if we are to compare the human body or any other organism with nature the common thing is that both should work efficiently. The cancer is an element in your body that is too selfish and try to grow and use resources without the consideration that this is not sustainable in a long run, and that this selfishness will put an end to the existence of the organism and the cancer too eventually. Sounds familiar?
Actually selfishness is not something bad, every organism is fighting for its existence and reproduction, but in human body cells should compromise because they are part of a system which can only continue to exist if cells are following the instructions right.
With nature things are not exactly the same, and are much more complicated, but again everything is part of a cycle and has its place, so if something is really detrimental to that cycle it just wont be able to withstand the test of time, and the system will substitute the defective parts with other players that do things more efficiently.
In that way if humans dont find a way to preserve the fertility of the soil they use, after some time whatever humans do and whatever tricks they apply they wont be able to cheat the test of time, and they will have to stop doing whatever they are doing.
So in general the time itself will deal with everything that is not sustainable in a long run.
The sad part is just why humans should waste all that time going in the wrong direction, just to find the dead end.
To my understanding investing in something and going on that road with no future has no meaning and is a waste of the potential we posses.
Humans should know much better, and should act in a way that will be beneficial for the future generations, that is how you manage the test of time, if you fail that then nothing now has any meaning, the important things now are the things that will continue to exist in the future, everything else is pointless waste of potential.
Sure nothing is perfect, but that is the great thing about nature, it purifies and develop things over time, and we wont run out of time anytime soon, for what I know.
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I'm not convinced I like the metaphor of "the desert as cancer."  "Desert" is a classification of some naturally occurring ecologies.  "Desertification" is a cancer, but not "desert" in my opinion.



Right. The desert I live in is caused by the rain shadow of the Himalayas, so it's really not something that spreads because it's already there.
 
Kelly Beck
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True, precise language is needed. Desertification is what I’m talking about. And like I mentioned several times in the post, this was sharing a thought process I went on. To get hung up on details might keep you from realizing the actual end thought.... that the De-desertification process used in Permaculture could have big picture parallels to better cancer treatments. Which for me, is very important. I know and love hundreds of cancer patients.

Kelly
 
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The sad thing about this metaphor is that cancer cannot be cured(at this point); remission and excision only slow it down, not stop it forever; same with our efforts - when we die or sell our permaculture paradise in the desert, it will just slowly turn back into desert as our progeny go back to the same old destructive techniques.

Even if some preventive measures (reducing runoff/air pollution, reducing over-grazing, over-development, clear-cutting, consumption overall, etc) are taken at a large scale (which I still fully support, despite my gloominess here), the world can never stop using water for basic human needs - rivers and aquifers will still go dry at the same rate.
 
Kelly Beck
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Dustin,

I like that.... the nice thing about your observation is that for real life people, that remission and slowing means seeing grandchildren born, more time to take care of spouses with Alzheimer's disease, the opportunity to travel or finish memoirs, raising children or grandchildren whose parents aren't in the picture. No small step or small progress is a waste, although it all can look bleak. I like the sentiment of Masanobu Fukuoka, that true agriculture is more about perfecting the person than the land.

I believe we are all flawed, and will never be perfect in this life, but the stresses of the journey in this life can help us be something beautiful. I once had a patient with breast cancer who was scared of the new chemo express to me, "I can't wait to see who I will be after this. Because I can only be someone who is stronger." She gave me permission to share what she said, because it really spoke to me. Perhaps no progress in the land is truly wasted as long as it gives the opportunity for the people to grow there as well.

Kelly

 
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