Having emerged from chemo fog and side effect hell, I decided to research the drug Docetaxel just for fun. I know right, living on the edge ; p Docetaxel is one of my chemotherapy drugs. When the docs call it a ‘chemo’ drug, it just means that it’s a systemic drug that treats the whole body. Other drugs, like Herceptin are targeted directly at the cancer cells. Chemo is the ‘go nuclear’ option. So first I was googling my other chemo drug, Carboplatin, and I found out that at the centre of its molecular structure lies a platinum atom. This for some reason made me feel special and precious. It spurred me on to keep googling.
Docetaxel is VERY interesting. It’s derived from the needle-like leaves of the European Yew tree. Now, don’t all run out and start chewing on yew tree leaves in the assumption that it’ll pre-zap cancer cells. This tree is a deadly blighter. It will kill you very quickly and efficiently if you eat any part of it aside from the tiny fleshy part of the berries. The seeds inside the flesh of the berry will also kill you so sucking the sweet flesh of this tree should be considered an extreme sport. By some magical process inside mysterious laboratories, genius people in white coats transform this poison into medicine.
The first time the Yew tree was recorded to be used for medicinal purposes in Europe was in 1021 but it wasn’t until 1967 that its cancer fighting properties were scientifically formulated. The Yew has a long and important social history and is posited to be the Germanic pagan holy tree, Yggdrasil. The Christians pinched the sacredness of the tree from the pagans. They knew a good thing when they saw one, those early Christian types. The Yew was then planted in churchyards or churches and monastries built around the trees. Or perhaps they knew that on really hot days, the Yew emits a gas that can induce hallucinations. That’s one way to get the punters in and see God at the same time. Yet possibly the reason we have any left is due to the relative safety of churchyards from developers.
The Yew is a very long-lived green thing. The oldest one in the UK is the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire and could be 3,000 years old! Again that tree got to a ripe old age in a churchyard. The tree does seem to have this duality of life and death surrounding it. Being deathly poisonous to living creatures and mostly located in old creepy cemetaries, but at the same time the source for life-saving medicines. My life-saving medicine. It is a tree I would most definitely wish to hug. Funnily enough I once had someone call me a ‘tree-hugger’ as an insult. I remember not being pissed off because of the insult but that at the time it was voiced, I had actually been ranting on about human rights. A much more appropriate put down would have been ‘do-gooder’. I mean if you’re gonna insult me, at least get it right ; ) But for this tree, insult away. Correctly this time. Yews rock!