The Emperor of All Maladies

The book, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, was a rarity in it's history, breadth and insight into cancer. In fact, it's cleverly subheaded "A Biography" as if cancer is a single unit with an identity. I enthusiastically recommended it to people, who gave me odd looks I guess because why would they want to read a big book about cancer?

I'm surprised by how the film by Ken Burns and Barak Goodman changes the experience of consuming the information in a different way. Seeing the cancer patients is so much different than reading about them. The interviews with patients and doctors bring home so much more sharply how it feels to be fighting this beast. Like in episode two, a surgical oncologist undergoing surgery for breast cancer with her fellowship mentor. 

Another very effective use of film as a medium is the news clips. How we fight cancer has been controversial, and I think that is often overlooked. We might all want to cure it, but the road to get there has been full of misguided attempts and battles of ego. At one point, everyone thought things like high dose chemotherapy, radical mastectomies and deeper margins were the way to go -- basically overwhelming the systems to the highest degree possible without killing the patient. 

What I think is important about this history is that we need to look back and see that while our  knowledge was good, it was incomplete. Or it was based on bad assumptions. So, I see it as a call to look up, think differently and collaborate -- that's what's needed for us to move in one direction.