What launched a thousand ships?

I am rereading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and am just as fascinated as I was the last time I read it.  Today I am going to share a long passage from it, one Sidd tells when countering the notion that there is something modern about cancer.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  There are passages dating back to 2500 BC that describe what sounds like breast cancer.  And consider this fascinating story.

In his sprawling Histories, written around 440BC, the Greek historian Herodotus records the story of Atossa, the queen of Persia, who was suddenly struck by an unusual illness.  Atossa was the daughter of Cyrus, and the wife of Darius, successive Achaemenid emperors of legendary brutality who ruled over a vast stretch of land from Lydia on the Mediterranean Sea to Babylonia on the Persian Gulf.  In the middle of her reign, Atossa noticed a bleeding lump in her breast that may have arisen from a particularly malevolent form of breast cancer labeled inflammatory (in inflammatory breast cancer, malignant cells invade the lymph glands of the breast, causing a red, swollen mass).
If Atossa had desired it, an entire retinue of physicians from Babylonia to Greece would have flocked to her bedside to treat her.  Instead, she descended into a fierce and impenetrable loneliness.  She wrapped herself in sheets, in a self-imposed quarantine.  Darius’ doctors may have tried to treat her, but to no avail.  Ultimately, a Greek slave named Democedes persuaded her to allow him to excise the tumor.

Soon after that operation, Atossa mysterious vanishes from Herodotus’ text.  For him, she is merely a minor plot twist.  We don’t know whether the tumor recurred, or how or when she died, but the procedure was at least a temporary success.  Atossa lived, and she had Democedes to thanks for it.  And that reprieve from pain and illness whipped her into a frenzy of gratitude and territorial ambition.

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Darius had been planning a campaign against Scythia, on the eastern border of his empire.  Goaded by Democedes, who wanted to return to his native Greece, Atossa pleaded with her husband to turn his campaign westward – to invade Greece.  That turn of the Persian empire from east to west, and the series of Greco-Persian wars that followed, would mark one of the definitive moments in the early history of the West.  It was Atossa’s tumor, then, that quietly launched a thousand ships.  Cancer, even as a clandestine illness, left its fingerprints on the ancient world.