Monday, January 4, 2010

The Three Magic Words

She looked at him, her eyes wide with desire, the pupils in their staccato rage of focusing from side to side upon every feature of his face, but mostly each eye. He held her hands in both his and knew there was something he wanted to say to her but did not know how she would respond. It was late night and the minute hand of the clock tower nearby inched slowly towards the midnight hour. She knew she had to leave but she wanted to stay and hear him say the words she most wanted to hear. Their fingers interlocked in silence, palms sweaty and the first vapor trail of the warm breadth visible in the cold air. She shivered and he drew her closer but still no words. She had to go. She left.

“So what happened? She left?”
“Just like that?”

“Yes.” He said. This was a wistful word for a lost moment. He was now in the eightieth year of his life. He still sat with a straight back. His chin shaven jutted out with authority that he was used to. He was a retired three-star general in the army. His face weathered and permanently tanned from the limitless sun exposure. It was chiseled in straight angles and hard contours of determination and authority. The brown eyes deep set under a heavy brow and sloping forehead that ended in a crop of thin marine style haircut. His movements in the chair brought him discomfort and it reflected on the deepening furrow around his eyes. Here was a man who could take discomfort, yet this intense pain affected his steely stare.

“What is in this injection?”
“It is called Strontium.”
“An isotope of Strontium?”
“As a matter of fact it is Strontium90.”
“Hell that is a nuke!”
“It has medicinal qualities of alleviating pain from bone cancer.”
“So tell me how?”
“It emits some beta energy which destroys the cancer cells and that reduces the pressure on the periosteum lining of the bones that reduces pain.”
“Strontium90. Huh, never knew that I would be lining my interior with the stuff that Johan Gadolin discovered centuries ago.”

                                                   Johan Gadolin

“Actually it works relatively quickly and reduces discomfort markedly in a majority of patients.”
“Where does this Strontium come from?”
“It is delivered to us directly from a lab.”
“Well son, let me tell you about Strontium90.” He shifted slowly in his chair and the words started flowing. He wore his professorial hat now, not the commanding general's laced with golden braids. His voice had a Goldilocks deliberation to it. Not to slow to embarrass nor too quick to lose interest. It was just right in theme and tenor.

“You see, we all have a little bit of Strontium in us. Strontium is a byproduct of Uranium 235 after it fissions. U235 as you know is the enriched version of U238 the more stable isotope. U235 has a half-life of 700,000,000 years. U238 however has a half-life of 4 billion years. The fissile component of fast energy in U235 when enriched to 80-100%% grade leads to “weapons/bomb grade” status. In Nuclear reactors the enrichment is up to 40%.

“As the U235 decays and emits beta energy it collides with another beta particle and fission occurs. If this continues past a critical point called critical mass, it leads to a chain reaction and we have a pure Uranium 235 Hiroshima

 and a Plutonium 239 Nagasaki. “Fat Man” bomb.

 The former is easier to control for instance it requires about 33 pounds of U235, 2 Neutron release and 81 generations of fissions to create, what 13 pounds of P 239 with 3 Neutrons and 51 generation of chain reaction would yield in equivalence. 

The latter (P239) is a byproduct of a nuclear reactor – easier to obtain but difficult to control, with a half-life of 24,000 years. 

While only 2% of the Hiroshima bomb underwent the fission most was lost due to pre-detonation or non-fission. In the Nagasaki bomb the external ring of hexagonal density pressure sensors which encased the P239 device were designed to simultaneously explode and “push” the Neutron flow within thus causing the chain reaction. 

In the nuclear reactor the chain reaction is contained and sustained by the 60% U238 that absorbs the energy and also by using heavy water, Carbon, Lithium and Molybdenum moderators.

“In the Reactor, U235 emits its energy particle and the 8% byproduct is Strontium90 with a half life of 65 days. Strontium90 has a fission energy yield of about 6%. It is also the isotope du jour for the Russian Nuclear Reactors. The decay and release of the fast gamma particle leads to a byproduct of Yttrium90, which has a half-life of 64 hours. Yttrium90 is not a energy yielder as Strontium nor Uranium. A Nuclear reactor is a controlled sustained sets of explosion with a predetermined yield of energy that heats up the water converting it into steam that drives the turbines that creates electricity that rides the power lines and drives your daily home needs.” 

“How do you know all this?”

“I was in Nuclear Physics field when I decided that serving the country in the army was a better use of my life, knowing what I knew to protect and defend our country.”


He fell silent. His left eye arched in contemplation for a fleeting moment and then all muscles relaxed as past decisions met with approval.

“I didn’t know we have Strontium90 in us?”

“There is a reason behind that. The US and Russia exploded Nuclear warheads in the beginning. The explosion released Megatons of energy. Some of the byproducts blew through the tropopause of the atmosphere and circulate around the earth as micro-satellite particles eventually becoming the nuclei for raindrops. These then fall on the earth and are absorbed by the plants. Animals eat the plants and man eats both plants and animals. Strontium90 being extremely mobile gets into the underground water supply too and there you have it. The Northern Hemisphere soil has more of it than the Southern Hemisphere.

“For a Jar-head to know all this, troubles your grafted image but then looks can be deceiving, remember I was a nuclear physicist first.”

“Wow. I had no idea. I do know that Strontium salts help with osteoporosis and are incorporated in the bones to increase bone density and it may be the same affinity…”

“So tell me what does Strontium90 do inside the body?” He asked.

“Oh that I can help with. You see Strontium competes with calcium in the bone and gets embedded in the bone. There is a competition between the two. 70-80% of the Strontium90 is eliminated by the body in urine and feces, while 1% is affixed to the bones.”

“So doesn’t that cause problems?”

“We think there is an extremely low risk of lymphomas, leukemias and bone marrow diseases from that. There is some thought that a disorder like Myelodysplastic Syndrome now on the rise may be in part a consequence of that.”

“So you are going to cause cancer within my cancer?”

“Not really. The time delay between exposure and causation is several years.”

“How do you know?”

“The dosage is small. Incidentally the byproduct Yttrium90 is being used in the treatment of Malignant Lymphomas that is a disease of the lymphocytes and lymph nodes, by hybridizing it with a mouse monoclonal antibody it becomes branded as Zevlin and another called Bexxar with good results. 

In fact there are new studies where doctors at MD Anderson in Houston Texas have used lipid pellets filled with Yttrium90 successfully to destroy cancer in the liver by arterial embolization.”

Hepatic Angiogram

Direct Delivery of Strontium90 into the Hepatic Artery

Liver tumor prior to therapy

Liver tumor after Yttrium 90 infusion

Photomicrograph of Liver tissue with encapsulated Yttrium90

“What about side effects?”

“For the Embolism method there is an 11% risk of stomach bleeding due to erosion of the lining which is preventable.”

Stomach ulceration due to therapy

“That is encouraging, so the side effects are dose-dependent?”

“Sort of.”
“Not known, Huh?”
“Unfortunately that is true.”
“Well, I don’t have that long. What the hell.”
“You will feel better.”
“I hope you are right.”

Four weeks later he was walking without pain. He stood straight with one arm on the windowsill. The light of the day cast a shadow on his face, which had softened furrows. The relief was measurable and now a smile emerged from his thin lips. “It worked. Life is worth living again.”

“I am glad.”

“You know when you said that Strontium competes with the Calcium, it made me think and investigate a little.”

“What did you learn?” His voice that of a three-star general and professor all in one.
“Lately there are studies showing the benefits of Vitamin D and Calcium against Breast cancer and Colon cancer. Interestingly enough the ingested foods we eat contain Strontium90 from the soil. A fairly large amount of the stomach and intestine lining is affected by the Strontium90 as it passes through and it is also present in breast milk up to 4ppm vs. the whole body content being 0.5ppm. This gives an interesting premise that Calcium/Vitamin D use competes with Strontium90 thus forcing more Strontium90 excretion, hence the reduction in the cancer occurrences and more protection from malignancy as the new studies are advocating.”

“You should publish that.” He rammed his right fist into the left palm.
“It is only a theory. One would have to get proof.”
“So get it.” He said it with conviction. There was no arguing the difficulty with him. Hard work and dedication were his life.


“I wanted to thank you for the help. Your treatment worked wonders for me.”

“I am glad. But I did have a question that has been bothering me.”

“What is it?”

“What happened to the girl?”

“I married her 10 years later. Dogged pursuit of a love, what I thought was unrequited was requited with equal measure from her side. We met again after college and after finishing my tenure as a nuclear physicist. She followed my life as I did hers and then one day I got the courage to ask her out and said the three magic words.”

“Bold eh?”

“I am a jar-head, what do you expect? You think I was going to let her go the second time. Never!”

Isn’t it strange? Sometimes the lack of expression of simple words can create huge divides that remain until the bridge is built to pass over the crevice with those same words.

Isn’t discovery weird? Sometimes a poison can act as ointment to heal a wound it might have caused.

Isn’t complexity just a state of mind rather then a few simple things stitched together?

Life is simply elemental!

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