Monday, August 15, 2011

we all hold dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick*

I just finished reading The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee a couple of days ago, and guys, you've got to read this book. Chances are, if you don't get cancer, someone you know will. One in three American women and one in two American men will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Isn't that insane?

This book gives an excellent history of our understanding of the disease and the evolution of treatment for it. It's very well-written (it won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize), and does a really great job of making highly technical things accessible to a non-scientist. Mukherjee also does a great job of capturing how complex cancer is while still making it understandable.

One of the things that stood out to me the most is the almost brutal natural of cancer treatment, even 20 years ago. In the early 1900s treating breast cancer meant not only a mastectomy but carving out most of the chest muscles and going up into the neck, leaving the patient partially paralyzed and highly disfigured. And the cancer still came back. Chemotherapy, even today, is devastating, because you end up killing your own cells in the attempt to destroy the cancer. Reading the case studies in the book made me want to cry several times, reading about what people went through. I couldn't hold back tears listening to a physician speak about her struggle with leukemia during Aaron's white coat ceremony.

Anyway, I loved this book. I can't get it out of my head. It's made me seriously consider doing cancer research for grad school.
You should read it too. :)

*paraphrased from Susan Sontag

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