Cancer, the very word strikes fear in the hearts of those who hear it. My fixation with Cancer started when I was on the verge of being a cancer patient. I wrote about it here. There were a couple of distant relatives who passed away due to cancer, though I wasn't affected much. Then there was Lalita Mukherjee. It was with her death that I truly felt the impact of the disease.
Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist by profession understands this fear. It is a tough profession, to watch most of your patients die. He wrote "The Emperor of All Maladies" out of the notes he wrote as a practicing oncologist.
It is difficult to slot this book. Siddhartha Mukherjee reaches into history, literature and social studies to present a complete picture of Cancer. Interspersed with anecdotes about his patients, it makes a interesting read. He details the initial struggles by doctors to understand the disease. Some thought of it as caused by black bile, some thought it could be cut out of the body by surgery. He then leads us into the War against Cancer, how it went down the wrong path and the course corrections.The chapter on Cigarettes and how the manufacturers tried to stall the warnings make for chilling reading, especially when the same game is being played out in Asian countries.
The later part of the book has details about the current developments in cancer cure. This chapter with DNA - RNA and chemical reactions might tax the reader a little. However, even I, whose last class in Biology was in High School, was able to understand it. He leaves the reader in a positive frame of mind writing about the new drugs that have increased the life span of cancer patients.
For me, what stood out was Mukherjee's empathy with the patients. He gently chides some of the doctors who treat only the disease without understanding how it affects the patients. He writes about palliative care and how it enables terminally ill patients to die with dignity.
If any one of you wants to understand about Cancer, this is the book to read.