Tripping Over the Truth, Travis Christofferson – Part 1

Both my parents died of cancer (mom-cancer of the uterus, dad-lung cancer). My father-in-law also died of cancer (metastasized to many parts of his body) a couple of months ago. My mother-in-law had cancer when she died although it wasn’t listed as cause of death. One of the Thai aunties that took care of my wife when she was a kid died particularly painfully from cancer. The list could go on and on. When I heard that yet another one of our acquaintances discovered that they had cancer I decided to spend some time learning more about the disease.

One of the sources of information I looked at was the Ken Burns series The Emperor of All Maladies (based on the book by Siddhartha Mukherjee). It was a history of attempts to find a solution to cancer. That history is a series of episodes of hope followed by ultimate disappointment. It ends with the another hope that immunotherapy will end up being the answer but that we are not there yet.

In doing some online searching it seems that many of the folks that I listen to on other health topics point to a book called The Metabolic Theory of Cancer by Thomas Seyfried M.D. Unfortunately, this book is quite expensive, over $100. I may yet read it, though – I recently got a library card from my local library and I will see if I can borrow it from there.

In the meantime, another book frequently mentioned alongside the Seyfried book was Tripping over the Truth. That one wasn’t nearly as expensive so I started with that one.

Like The Emperor of All Maladies, Tripping over the Truth contains a history of the fight against cancer. However, it doesn’t end with the view that immunotherapy is the most cutting edge way to combat the disease.


Part one details how cancer became known as a genetic disease.

The story starts in the 1700’s where a London surgeon named Pott noticed a sharp rise in painful scrotal warts among young boys indentured as chimney sweeps. He had a theory that soot was causing what ended up being cancer. This was the beginning of realizing that an external agent could cause cancer.

Moving forward to the 1800’s, the ability to view cells under a microscope led a german doctor named Hansemann to notice a key difference between the chromosomes of cancer cells and those of normal cells – rather than symmetrical they were in complete chaos. The linking of Pott’s idea that external agents could cause cancer and Hansemann’s observation of chromosome damage became known as the “somatic mutation theory” (SMT).

In the 1900’s, a doctor, Peyton Rous, went to work on a ranch in order to recover from a surgical accident and started experimenting on tumors in hens. He found that he could induce cancer in healthy hens by transplanting cells (eventually isolated down to a virus) from the cancerous tumor of a sick hen. This led to the question of how both external agents and viruses could both be causes of cancer.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Otto Warburg – an accomplished scientist – switched his interest from biochemistry to medicine. His ambition was to figure out how to cure cancer. He noticed that , although cancer cells and normal cells generated the same amount of energy, the way they generated energy differed from healthy cells. Cancer cells were generating energy anaerobically through fermentation of glucose rather than aerobically as normal cells did. He also made other observations including the observation that when normal, healthy cells were deprived of oxygen for a period of time they turned cancerous. In 1931, Warburg received the Nobel prize for his work on cellular energy. He believed until his death that this was the cause of cancer. However, the scientific establishment fixated on SMT and Warburg’s theory was discounted and marginalized. With the discovery of DNA in the 1950’s and the rise of genetics, the idea that DNA alteration was central to cancer became the widely accepted theory.

In the 1960’s, a molecular biologist, Harold Varmus, took a class on the exploding field of tumor viruses which gave him the idea that cancer-causing viruses might hold the answer to the problem of cancer. Looking for a lab to work in, he joined with Michael Bishop. Bishop’s lab was already working with a virus known to cause cancer. They had two hypotheses: 1) we all carry genes that could be activated by carcinogens to produce cancer and 2) genes were inserted into us by viral infections to produce cancer. To test this, they isolated the single gene in the virus known to induce cancer and found that gene was present in every bird they tested and other animal species as well. When they repeated the experiment with the complement virus (all genes that weren’t the cancer causing one) they didn’t find that one in any other species. They had shown that the  cancer-causing portion of the virus was a distortion of DNA present in all species. This cemented the primacy of SMT in the scientific community. No one disputed it.

Marc Maron

From episode 781 of the WTF podcast (about 2 minutes into the show):

“But look, I gotta talk about something… I can’t… you get to a point where you really gotta ask yourself what is it, what’s your responsibility, personally, to the country and as an American and as somebody who, who believes in this country. I mean this, you know, this refugee ban, I mean I haven’t been sleeping and I wake up with nightmares and I wake up with, you know, totalitarian nightmares. I’m sure a lot of you understand what I’m saying and the issue is like, this is not, the refugee ban, it’s no longer a right wing / left wing issue. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. It’s not about conservatives and liberals, I mean, it’s really about being an American.

“Seriously. I mean, I don’t have to remind everyone that, you know, we have the privilege to live in this country and because of that we have a moral duty to protect oppressed people and to allow asylum to those who seek it. That’s what this country’s about. I mean, if anyone who calls himself the President of the United States of America wants to prevent us from executing that moral duty, that person is being a shitty American.

“And I don’t even have to mention names because it’s about America. And it’s our responsibility as citizens to override that. That moral transgression. That disregard for American principles and foundations.

“I mean, seriously, you should not be able to be afforded the freedoms of this country if you can’t protect and uphold them for others. This is an American thing. It’s being a good American.

“And look, if your anger or ideology or mangled religious beliefs have disabled you from being capable of compassion, mercy, empathy, charity, decency… I guess I’m not speaking to you so you can sit there and fume. If you are an autocratic loyalist or a totalitarian apologist and you know that and you’re OK with it, I guess I’m not speaking to you so sit there and fume. Turn me off.

“If your comfort and/or partisan hopes have insulated you or enable you to rationalize what is happening – I’m speaking to you. Step up. Be a good American. If you are debilitated by your fear – I know it, I know it, I feel it – and you’re turning inward or trying to distract yourself – I’m speaking to you. So step up. Be a good American. If you feel detached or despondent or hopeless or never, you never were a political person, it’s not too late to engage in some civic responsibility – step up. Be a good American.

“And if you are angry and engaged and fighting the good fight in an active way – thank you for being a good American. Godspeed.

“And if you are one of thousands who protested this weekend – thank you.

“And if you are with the ACLU or support the ACLU and helped to force a stay that will prevent people who arrived with valid green cards from being deported – thank you.

“No one is helpless. If you’re angry you can do things. Are you angry? Good! Stay angry. But be focused. Focus, focus, focus. This isn’t a partisan agenda. It’s an American agenda. Step up. Be a good American.

“And also, look, if you’re a celebrity and you’re planning to attend the Oscars next month, particularly if you’re nominated, you need to think long and hard about that because one of your fellow nominees has just been barred from attending by way of presidential decree.

“You know, this tone is what it is. You know, I want to be able to, to live with myself. And there is zero point in anyone doing anything – having a podcast, going to award shows, entertaining ourselves – if we’re not going to fight like hell to protect the foundational structures of this country that allow us to do these things in the first place. I mean, are you telling me that we Americans can’t create jobs, rebuild infrastructure, have reasonable immigration and trade policy and health care without being full of hate or compromising the foundations of our democracy or disregarding the constitution. I mean – come on! Fuck!

“I woke up today, called my state representative, told them how I felt, asked them to speak up or forego my support. I made some donations to organizations working to support war-displaced refugees around the world. Fucking women, children, shattered lives, nowhere to go. The International Rescue Committee, IRC, UNICEF, Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders. Help out. Step up. Be a good American.

“You should also donate to the ACLU. We’re gonna need ‘em. This is a fight. But it’s good to know, even in a seemingly futile and hopeless situation, that direct action can have direct results.

“No one is helpless. If you’re angry, you can do things. Just step up. This isn’t a partisan agenda. I am not being partisan. It’s an American agenda.”

Elliptical becoming a habit

Four days now of an hour on the elliptical. I’m having a hard time going slow enough to keep my heart rate in the “Maffetone zone” but I’m assuming that will become easier with time.

I have to admit I’m  feeling stronger, especially in my legs. Traditionally I haven’t been one for exercise but I’m starting to warm to the idea.

Saturday – Shit Got Real..

I love the USA. I love the people that mobilized on a moment’s notice at airports to support the folks that are being illegally discriminated against and detained. I love the lawyers that flooded into the airports to do pro-bono work to help the innocent people caught between countries at the airport. I love the ACLU for getting a stay against the foolish executive order causing all this. I love all those that support freedom for everybody.

I love the USA. I just hate the clowns that are in office trying to fuck our country and what it stands for – freedom and hope for everybody.

Cold again

After a few days in the 40’s and 50’s, it’s cold again. I woke up to snow this morning and I just went out to get the mail and, man, it’s cold again. I should expect this in January but the past few days were a tease. Easy to get used to warmer weather…

Today was another instance of me cooking – braised collard greens from Dr. Hyman’s Eat Fat Get Thin cookbook. Pretty good. It would have been better with bacon, though.

Today I was on the elliptical for more than an hour. Not a struggle. Today I was listening to the WTF podcast interview with Billy Crystal. I am following the Maffetone calculation of max heart rate for exercise and that might be why I can go for so long.


Wednesday – Lessons again

Today, the highlight was my guitar lesson. I finally have a song pretty much under my belt (and if that isn’t scary enough, I was singing as well) and started on a new one. Scale exercises are coming along too. All in all, a good day on the instruments.

Started reading yet another new book and I’m behind on book review posting by one. Hopefully I can get that one up in the next day or two.