Periodically, I get an MRI to confirm that all is well with my internal organs. It’s because at one point some years ago all was not well. As a result of my bodily dysfunction, I now have no spleen, a tailless pancreas, plus ulcerative colitis and weird chronic pain and the beginnings of arthritis in my hands, knees, and hips. (That last bit is a recent addition, and not really relevant to my internal organs. I just wanted to be thorough.)
Other than that, Doc, I feel fine.
My MRI results have, fortunately, not changed in a number of years. I’ve always liked perusing the reports, and my most recent one, from last week, was a true joy to read. First, it’s nice to see the word “normal” associated with parts of my body, and under these circumstances I also appreciate “unremarkable,” which under other circumstances might hurt my feelings.
But the other reason I like reading my MRI results is because they remind me that I have a special friend within me. I’ve named him Gus. Gus is my own personal hepatic hemangioma.
He’s just a little guy, 3.4 x 2.9 cm, and he may have joined me in my earliest days—though we only met recently. He’s completely harmless, so I take comfort in his staying power, although I sometimes wonder what he’s seen (and if I should be embarrassed). Still, I appreciate that whatever is happening to my organs, Gus is at my side. Or, more accurately, on my side. In my side? He’s glommed on to the surface of my otherwise unremarkable liver—sort of like a male anglerfish attached to his lover (seriously, watch this video)—just a tangle of blood vessels fed just enough by their own source to stick around, leading a rather low-energy existence. (Some might see Gus as a parasite of sorts. I call him my little bloody buddy.)
The first time I had an MRI and noticed mention of this oddity in the report, I didn’t know what a hemangioma was. So I was a bit worried. Things that end with “oma” aren’t usually good things. Glioma. Glioblastoma. Sarcoma. Roma tomatoes (which just aren’t that flavorful).
Then again, He-man is a superhero. For a time, at least, he was the most powerful half man in the universe. And superheroes generally use their powers for good. In fact, I read that in 130 episodes, He-man never harmed a living creature. (He punched some robots, but that’s to be expected.)
So, armed with my own off-the-top break-down of the term, I looked up hemangioma on the Interwebs, where all knowledge is stored.
I was pretty much wrong on all counts. Gus is neither a bad “oma” nor a creature with superpowers.
He’s really just a benign tumor, and a common one–especially on the skin. During their first weeks of life up to 10 percent of all infants have one of these “birth marks” form like a little cherry (or a big cherry, or sometimes several cherries or a cherry juice stain or just something that looks like a nasty rash). The stuff often shows up on the face, and many of these bits or blotches are surgically removed. Importantly, I saw a photo of one on a baby’s back that looks just like a sting ray! So, elasmobranchs may be implicated at some point.
Meanwhile, not to be outshined by the skin, spleens and livers (along with muscle and bones) can have hemangiomas, too.
Fortunately, though they look suspicious and shadowy on the MRI, even hepatic hemangiomas don’t become cancerous or indicate a predisposition for cancer. No one is even sure why they form. I read that in kids, formation may be related to protein development in the womb; in adults, there’s a possible hormone component (estrogen seems to fuel them and women get more of them, and bigger ones, than men) and there may also be a minor genetic abnormality involved—coupled with exposure to certain chemical compounds. How the heck someone figures all that out is beyond me. (Those who can’t do, write about people who can, I always say.)
Oddly, the liver version, if it crops up in a baby, is linked to higher rates of iron deficiency and heart failure while it seems to have no associated problems in adults. Go figure. Maybe babies are too little to handle the diversion of blood for no purpose. (Total guess and probably wrong.)
I suspect we all have at least one Gus and probably many Guses (Gusses? Gusies?), in various forms, hitching rides on our internal parts and overseeing the goings on throughout the body. They’re the idiopathic errors that make each of us a unique vessel of cells in which what’s “normal” puts up a good fight for some years until what’s whacked out finally makes its move. Cycle of life, people.
I’m just glad my Gus, while a bloody mystery to science, hasn’t done me any harm and doesn’t seem to be out to get me. Not like some blood vessels I know. (I’m talking to you, FRANK.)
He-Man image from http://clipart-library.com/
Baby pic to be sourced