Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Emperor of All Maladies (2010)

A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee

New Yorker Review of EOAM by Steven Shapin, November 6, 2010.

This is an incredible book that won the Pullitzer Prize in 2011. The following is from Publisher's Weekly: " Mukherjee's debut book is a sweeping epic of obsession, brilliant researchers, dramatic new treatments, euphoric success and tragic failure, and the relentless battle by scientists and patients alike against an equally relentless, wily, and elusive enemy. From the first chemotherapy developed from textile dyes to the possibilities emerging from our understanding of cancer cells, Mukherjee shapes a massive amount of history into a coherent story with a roller-coaster trajectory: the discovery of a new treatment--surgery, radiation, chemotherapy--followed by the notion that if a little is good, more must be better, ending in disfiguring radical mastectomy and multidrug chemo so toxic the treatment ended up being almost worse than the disease. The first part of the book is driven by the obsession of Sidney Farber and philanthropist Mary Lasker to find a unitary cure for all cancers. (Farber developed the first successful chemotherapy for childhood leukemia.) The last and most exciting part is driven by the race of brilliant, maverick scientists to understand how cells become cancerous. Each new discovery was small, but as Mukherjee, a Columbia professor of medicine, writes, "Incremental advances can add up to transformative changes." Mukherjee's formidable intelligence and compassion produce a stunning account of the effort to disrobe the "emperor of maladies."

The Killer Within (2011)

(Published January 2011)  
Philip Carlo's investigative achievements are remarkable, but what wasn't known to his readers is that, while working on The Ice Man, he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a terminal illness that causes all of the muscles in the body to atrophy over time. Suddenly, after years of penetrating the minds of killers, Carlo found himself being pursued by the grim reaper. But rather than lying down and succumbing to the disease, Carlo continued to work, and his books are still being published, to both critical and commercial acclaim.

In The Killer Within, Carlo documents his difficult experiences with ALS and explains how he has managed to continue to write prodigiously in the face of adversity. The Killer Within is a gripping, suspenseful page turner that pulls the reader into the netherworld of Mafia bosses, Mafia hit men and serial killers, as well as the hard realities of dealing with a fatal disease.

Mr. Carlo died in November 2010:  NY Times Obit.

Living with a brain tumor

When language falls by the wayside, of what does the mind consist?

“This is about my dying: and how my life got here.” So begins Tom Lubbock’s poignant piece about what it has been like living with a brain tumor for the past two years.

In 2008 Lubbock, a British art critic and journalist, was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a malignant brain tumor. What made his condition all the more grave was that the growth developed in his left temporal lobe—the seat of language. Lubbock, who makes his living by the art of composing words on a page, was forced to face the fact that eventually he would lose his ability to write and speak.

Lubbock muses: “I won't recover, no. But I haven't been given a definite time limit. So the narrative seems unclear and my luck, in a way, is both bad and good....I recognise that I am being kept alive by my treatment. I can hope for a prolongation for a little. I believe in my life continuing, though not for very long. I don't feel physically in pain – the brain has no nerve feelings, of course – nor have I been very interested, in fact, in the science.

“At the same time, this life is unbelievable. At moments, it is terrible and outrageous. But in other ways, I accept what it brings, in its strangeness and newness. This mortality makes its own world.”

Tom Lubbock’s amazing essay can be accessed in its entirety here.

A Life Beyond Reason

Chris Gabbard, an associate professor of English at the University of North Florida, has published an essay on the evolution of his perspectives regarding his severely handicapped son, August. Professor Gabbard has much to teach us about the depth of parental commitment and how caring for a special needs child can enhance the outlook of the caretaker as well.

Gabbard writes: “To admit how August has changed me is not to assert that what he has given me compensates for what he, my wife, my daughter, and I have lost on account of the poor decisions made by the hospital where he was born. There is no getting back what we have lost. Compensation is just a trope, and belief in compensation is as superstitious as belief in the medieval notion of correspondences. Besides, nothing can compensate for what all of us have had to give up.

“That is not to deny that August, along with my daughter and my wife, is the most amazing and wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, for he has allowed me an additional opportunity to profoundly love another human being.”

Professor Gabbard’s essay can be accessed in its entirety here. It will also appear in Papa, PhD: Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy, published this month by Rutgers University Press.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Runaway Bunny

What do you say to a 4-year-old who has been diagnosed with a critical, perhaps terminal illness? What sort of reassurance do you offer? How far out on the limb do you go?

At that age, reassurance takes on the mantel of love. Words help, touch helps, doing an activity together helps. We work with whatever tools we have.

For young children, reading a book together may help reassure them that they do not have to go through their ordeal alone. A book is a story—nothing more, nothing less. Its category means nothing—it is only the story that holds meaning.

First published in 1942 and never out of print, “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown is a tender tale which serves to reassure young children that, come what may, they will never be deserted by those steadfast significant grownups in their lives.