The Greeks used an evocative word to describe tumors, onkos, meaning "mass" or "burden." The word was more prescient than they might have imagined. Cancer is indeed the load built into our genome, the leaden counterweight to our aspirations for immortality. But if one looks back even further behind the Greek to the ancestral Indo-European language, the etymology of the word onkos changes. Onkos arises from the ancient word nek. And nek, unlike the static onkos, is the active form of the word load. It means to carry, to move the burden from one place to the next, to bear something across a long distance and bring it to a new place. It is an image that captures not just the cancer cell's capacity to travel — metastasis — but also Atossa's journey, the long arc of scientific discovery — and embedded in that journey, the animus, so inextricably human, to outwit, to outlive and survive.
From Emperor Of All Maladies Siddartha Mukerjee