Kids dream big. The younger the kid, the bigger the dream. When I was about 8 or 9, I remember watching the Formula 1 racing on the BBC – I was captivated by the black and gold of the John Player Special Lotus cars and insisted on building an Airfix replica to hang from my bedroom ceiling. Those were the days, eh? When kids toys could be sponsored by a cigarette manufacturer. I resolved to make it as a racing driver. It was my dream then and the number of points on my licence today would suggest that I went some way to achieving it. The shame.
Primary school children bubble with unbridled dreams. It’s one of the best lessons of the year to simply ask, what do you want to be when you grow up? Astronaut, fire fighter, doctor, vet, dancer, Batman, Bob the Builder, Anna from Frozen, England Captain. The younger the children, the wilder the dreams. The older the children, the more you talk about how you can achieve those dreams without crushing them because at the age of 11, why the heck should you know what you’re going to be? As Baz Luhrmann said, “…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.”
Not all my ambitious lessons have left me smiling though. When I was a very green first year teaching student, my first placement was in a very tasty part of Leeds. On my first day I rounded street a corner and almost walked straight into a chap carrying a shotgun. There aren’t many grouse in that part of Leeds. Pigeons, I suppose.
My first class were 10 years old and one of my first lessons posed the magic question. Amongst the answers came all the usuals until one young man said without a hint of hesitation that he wanted to be the best twocker in Leeds. I stumbled for a moment, clueless. “What’s a twocker, Liam?” I asked. “It’s nicking cars, sir,” replied Liam. TWOCing: Taking Without Owner’s Consent. I nearly swallowed my tie but managed to maintain a calm exterior. “What skills do you need for that then?” I responded weakly – well, you’ve got to stick to the lesson plan. We discussed in some depth the requirements for the job and after some gentle persuasion concluded that these were mostly transferrable to the trade of the mechanic and that this path might offer a bit more… freedom. At 3.00pm the bell sounded and off home they went. I felt well chuffed with myself for I, yes I, had saved a soul from certain incarceration. Wow. That’s teaching at its best.
Next morning a policeman came to see the Headteacher and explained that Liam wouldn’t be in that day because he’d been caught the night before breaking into someone’s pride and joy. With his dad. I often wonder what became of Liam. It’s a big bad world which is why when kids are kids, they must be allowed to dream big.
I chose the topic of ambition for this blog because after my explanation of what happens during a stem cell transplant the other day, several people asked a great question – how do the stem cells know what to turn into? Do they just know what they should be when they grow up? I had no idea so I asked a junior doctor. She had a vague idea but was good enough to find out more so here comes some science….
Stem cells from bone marrow can become any one of the many types of blood cells. Our brains and hormonal glands act like incredibly sensitive chemical analysers and monitor the contents of our blood constantly. When they detect that a certain blood product is needed, say red blood cells, they respond by releasing a hormonal shower (sounds like a grumpy storm) into the blood. These hormones are chemical triggers called cytokines which bond to stem cells in the bone marrow and cause them to become whatever the body needs. It is molecular biology at the forefront of medical research and, in the opinion of leading scientists, potentially holds the key to treating many of the most common diseases in the world, including blood cancers. If we can learn to manipulate cytokines, we have the potential to cause our bodies to mend themselves, and that would be incredible.
Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research share this dream. Many of their researchers are working on stem cell projects that could hold the key to cures for people like me. That’s my dream and it’s pretty big.
If you've recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and have yet to receive treatment you could be eligible to take part in a new clincial trial. Read more here.