At a prestigious Florida medical center, brain cancer patients are treated with a one-hundred-percent success rate. Sean Murphy, a young medical student, finds it hard to believe. Is it a miracle cure? Or the biggest con job in the history of medicine?
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July 19, 2002
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Excerpt from Terminal by Robin Cook
Monday, 7:05 A.M.
Helen Cabot gradually awoke as dawn emerged from the winter darkness blanketing Boston, Massachusetts. Fingers of pale, anemic light pierced the darkness of the third-floor bedroom in her parents' Louisburg Square home. At first she didn't open her eyes, luxuriating under the down comforter of her canopied bed. Totally content, she was mercifully unaware of the terrible molecular events occurring deep inside her brain.
The holiday season had not been one of Helen's most enjoyable. In order to avoid missing any classes at Princeton where she was enrolled as a junior, she'd scheduled an elective D&C between Christmas and New Year's. The doctors had promised that removing the abnormally heavy endometrial tissue lining the uterus would eliminate the violently painful cramps that left her incapacitated each time she got her period. They'd also promised it would be routine. But it hadn't been.
Turning her head, Helen gazed at the soft morning light diffusing through the lace curtains. She had no sensation of impending doom. In fact, she felt better than she had in days. Although the operation had gone smoothly with only mild post-operative discomfort, the third day after surgery she had developed an unbearable headache, followed by fever, dizziness, and most disturbing of all, slurred speech. Thankfully, the symptoms had cleared as quickly as they had appeared, but her parents still insisted she keep her scheduled appointment with the neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Drifting back to sleep Helen heard the barely perceptible click of her father's computer keyboard. His study was next to Helen's bedroom. Opening her eyes just long enough to see the clock, she realized it was just past seven. It was amazing how hard her father worked. As the founder and chairman of the board of one of the most powerful software companies in the world, he could afford to rest on his laurels. But he didn't. He was driven, and the family had become astoundingly wealthy and influential as a result.
Unfortunately the security that Helen enjoyed from her family circumstances did not take into account that nature does not respect temporal wealth and power. Nature works according to its own agenda. The events occurring in Helen's brain, unknown to her, were being dictated by the DNA molecules that comprised her genes. And on that day in early January, four genes in several of her brain's neurons were gearing up to produce certain encoded proteins. These neurons had not divided since Helen was an infant, which was normal. Yet now because of these four genes and their resultant proteins, the neurons would be forced to divide again, and to keep on dividing. A particularly malignant cancer was about to shatter Helen's life. At age twenty-one, Helen Cabot was potentially "terminal," and she had no idea.
January 4, 10:45 A.M.
Accompanied by a slight whirring noise, Howard Pace was slid out of the maw of the new MRI machine at the University Hospital in St. Louis. He'd never been more terrified in his life. He'd always been vaguely anxious about hospitals and doctors, but now that he was ill, his fears were full-fledged and overwhelming.
At age forty-seven Howard had been in perfect health until that fateful day in mid-October when he'd charged the net in the semifinals of the Belvedere Country Club's annual tennis tournament. There'd been a slight popping noise, and he'd sprawled ignominiously as the unreturned ball sailed over his head. Howard's anterior cruciate ligament had snapped inside his right knee.
That had been the beginning of it. Fixing the knee had been easy. Despite some mild problems his doctors ascribed to the aftereffects of general anesthesia, Howard had returned to work in just a few days. It had been important for him to get back quickly; running one of the nation's largest airplane manufacturing firms was not easy in an era of sharply curtailed defense budgets.