Gross Anatomy: The Reality of Cancer

End of week 7.

Today I dissected the peritoneal cavity – meaning the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, spleen, etc. Our lecture was 2 hours long and lab was 3. Usually lecture is 1 hour and lab is 2.. which if you do the math means that class alone was 2 hours longer than usual, not including tutoring and studying afterwards. It was a long day, but not only because of the length of time in the lab.

The body that we have for this exam (we switch bodies after each exam) is quite troubling. She has things that there shouldn’t be, or doesn’t have things that there should be, and she is so tiny that we can barely study the muscles because they’re all paper-thin and fused together. At the beginning of the course I was frustrated with the amount of fat the first body had, and now I’m wishing she had more.

For example, today we ran into a few difficulties. She had massive scar tissue surrounding her arteries which made them incredibly difficult to find. We had to have a professor come and help us find them, since we are usually not supposed to use scalpels when finding the arteries so that we don’t accidentally cut through them (since we don’t know where we are looking because this is the first time we’ve ever dissected a human body….) BUT the scar tissue was so thick that a scalpel was a must.

After exposing the arteries, we realized that something was wrong. (side note: most of the bodies are infused with latex which is exposed in the arteries) There was an explosion of latex inside the cavity which filled all of what would have been open space. One of the important arteries that we need to study exploded and latex went everywhere.. once again we had to have a professor come over and help us clear it out and figure out which artery exploded. So, these two things made it difficult to study because they weren’t how they should have been. This seems to have been the case the entire time we’ve had this body. Things just aren’t as they should be.. which makes learning them difficult as this body probably would have been better suited for a professional. But hey – it’s all about learning.

Now you’re probably wondering where the title of this post comes in. HERE! We were “appreciating” the small intestine (which actually looks huge) and noticed that the jejunum (first part of the small intestine) did not appear to have the coverings that it should. We asked our professor to come over again and she looked at it and said “hmm, that’s not right!” Oh great, here we go again…

It turns out that what should have been a smooth substance was actually rough and inconsistent. Answer: cancer cells. She had cancer cells all over part of her small intestine. I’ve always heard of cancer cells, as most of us unfortunately have, but I didn’t picture them to look like how they did. For some reason, in my head, I pictured cancer cells to be microscopic. They’re much bigger than I thought. Today I held cancer in my hand, and for the first time it clicked just how awful cancer is. Of course I thought it was awful before, but after having the reality of holding it in my hand the thought of it got so much worse. To think that the body can grow that inside of you, multiply, and take control is absolutely frightening. It gives the body so much power and makes us lose control.

Unfortunately this post isn’t ending on a happy note, but I must say that I am incredibly grateful for the body that I have been studying on. I’m glad she is no longer suffering from the pain that was inside her and that we get to study and see first-hand things that most people never get to study.

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