Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Body Worlds" Exhibit viewed by a Person with Cancer

Today I went to see the Body Worlds exhibit (An Anatomical Exhibition of Real Bodies, using a preservation technique called plastination) at the Boston Museum of Science. I took a class of freshmen in a seminar focusing on self and identity, and so I went as a teacher, professor, and also as a learner. When I arrived, I found myself viewing the amazing bodies of the exhibit through the lens of a person with cancer.

Before I say more about that, I want to also say that I felt privileged to see what's inside our bodies in an amazing, graphic, way. I felt initiated into the inside of the human body in a way that has traditionally been available only to medical students, doctors, nurses, and others in the medical profession.

Having said that, I was aware from first stepping into the exhibit that I was looking for information about my own body, not just participating in an abstract exercise. Looking at bones first, I checked out the fibula, to see a representation of my ankle broken last winter, looking for an ankle which carries a metal plate and six screws that poke a little out of the bone, just like mine. They showed metal joint replacements, but no metal plates stabilizing broken bone. In one part of the exhibit, there was a body with nerves exposed, from head to toe, including nerves across the foot that must be the ones that sometimes tingle next to and down from those stabilizing screws.

The internal organs come a little later. I saw lungs and liver, stomach and kidneys, and finally a gallbladder, even one with gallstones. I saw livers with cancer metastisized in multiple spots across the organ, and I saw cross sections of cancerous lungs with tumors, some small, some large. I saw brain tumors and breast tumors. I didn't see a cancerous gallbladder, or a cancerous bile duct, but of course these are both rare cancers. I wanted to see the relationship of all of these internal organs to each other, to see where they fit together, how the gallbladder is tucked up under the liver, how big the liver is in relation to many of the other organs in the area.

There were a lot of smokers' lungs, some with cancerous tumors. Last week in his blog, Leroy talked about not wanting to "police" the behavior of other people, not wanting to be their moral guardian. He doesn't choose to criticize someone who smokes for example (although he does think they should quit!). I have to admit that I was pleased to see many samples of smokers' lungs, for my college students and others who smoke. If none of my students smoke, they would be an unusual class, as in the last few years I have found at least a handful of smokers among the young adults in every class. The lungs of smokers were dark and discolored, and looked very unhealthy and very different from the healthy lungs.

Going to the exhibit, I expected to be informed and educated. I didn't expect to be engulfed by feelings and thoughts and worry about my cancer, my body, my still cancerous bile duct. I wouldn't have missed the exhibit, but I would have enjoyed it more a year ago when I wasn't looking for signs of cancer, signs of internal organs not doing their job because of cancer.

1 comment:

Susan said...

I wonder how many of us have cancer in our bodies right now and don't know it....may never know it. It seems that the doctors know so very little about some cancers and only a little more about other cancers. I wish I could see the exhibit you got to see with your students. I suspect there will be a day all too soon when doctors can take a picture of our internal organs and nerves and tissues and tell us if they see cancer there (but insurance probably won't pay for it!). It seems that the ability to see the disease is far easier than the ability to cure it...or, better yet, prevent it.
Well, I'm rambling now...better stop while I'm ahead!