It is never easy naming things. I usually don’t settle on a title for a book until I’m deep into the manuscript . (I don’t have the foggiest idea what my new book will be called.) “The Cancer Chronicles” may just be a placeholder for this journal until I think of something better. Or maybe the name will stick. It seems like an obvious choice — so obvious that it has been used before: for a series in the Philadelphia Inquirer that ended in 1996 with the death of its author, Fawn Vrazo, and by a newsletter published until 1997 by Ralph W. Moss, a champion of alternative therapies. The domain name cancerchronicles.com is parked unused at a web hosting company called Bluehost by someone who also owns something called loveyourpresident.com, which hasn’t been updated for a year and a half.
The biological phenomenon called cancer was named by Hippocrates from the Greek word karkinos or “crab.” Six hundred years later Galen explained why: “As a crab is furnished with claws on both sides of its body, so, in this disease, the veins which extend from the tumor represent with it a figure much like that of a crab.”
Most tumors don’t actually look like that, and recently I came across another etymological theory. A parasite, Sacculina carcini, feasts on crabs in a manner eerily similar to the feasting of a cancerous tumor. I’ll save the details for my book. But this is the gist: Maybe the ancient Greeks, dining on one of their favorite delicacies, noticed the similarities between the way Sacculina carcini overtakes its host and the way a cancer metastasizes.