Monday, March 16, 2015

Patricia Thomson: A Preview of "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies"

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is a proud supporter of Ken Burns presents "CANCER: THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES", a film by Barak Goodman, a vivid account of how far we've come in the fight against cancer.  North Texas Executive Director Patricia Thomson, Ph.D., provides a preview of the three party mini-series to be shown on PBS later this month.

"This is the first in a series of blogs on the book 'The Emperor of all Maladies' by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee.  The world-famous producer Ken Burns has developed the book into a 3 day documentary which will air on PBS March 30th 31st and April 1st.  According to the Author’s Note, “the book is a history of cancer.  It is a chronicle of an ancient disease – once a clandestine, “whispered-about” illness – that has metamorphosed into a lethal shape-shifting entity imbued with such penetrating metaphorical, medical, scientific, and political potency that cancer is often described as the defining plague of our generation.  This is book is a “biography” in the truest sense of the word – an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behavior.”  The author’s ultimate goal is to present the questions whether we will see an end to cancer in our future and whether it is possible to completely eradicate cancer from our bodies and the general populace.

The book is a fascinating read about an equally fascinating disease that has occupied our thoughts, fears and imaginations for thousands of years.  Billions of people have been touched by these diseases (they are actually many diseases that share a fundamental feature) in one way or another.  I will try and share excerpts over the next many weeks that capture the essence of Mukherjee’s work.  It is my hope that by reading this blog it will create a curiosity in you that will encourage your interest in watching the series at the end of the month.  If you have been touched by blood cancer specifically you will see that the treatment for blood cancer is the common thread in all cancer treatments.  What is even more amazing is that The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is the major funder of the research of blood cancer treatments and  has played a major role in the treatments we have today for all cancers. 

One of the things I found most interesting about the book is that is goes from subject to subject keeping the reader engaged, never knowing when the next turn would come.  From an in depth analysis of the history of cancer, to the early almost barbaric treatments of cancer patients, to the frustrating path of oncology researchers, to the heroic efforts of brave scientists on the cutting edge of experimental discoveries to  the hard fought battles of past and current cancer patients. 

Here is an excerpt from one of those personal battles fought by a cancer patient:  'In the bare hospital room ventilated by sterilized air, Carla was fighting her own war on cancer.  When I arrived, she was sitting with peculiar calm on her bed, a schoolteacher jotting notes.  Her mother, red-eyed and tearful, just off an overnight flight, burst into the room and then sat silently in a chair by the window, rocking forcefully.  The din of activity around Carla had become almost a blur:  nurses shuttling fluids in and out, interns donning masks and gowns, antibiotics  being hung on IV poles to be dripped into her veins.  I explained the situation as best as I could.  Her day ahead would be full of tests, a hurtle from one lab to another.  I would draw a bone marrow sample.  More tests would be run by pathologists.  But the preliminary tests suggested that Carla had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  It is one of the most common forms of cancer in children, but rare in adults.  And it is – I paused here for emphasis, lifting my eyes up – often curable.  Curable.  Carla nodded at that word, her eyes sharpening.  Inevitable questions hung in the room:  How curable?  What were the chances that she would survive?  How long would the treatment take?  I laid out the odds.  Once the diagnosis is confirmed, chemotherapy would begin immediately and last more that one year.  Her chances of being cured were about 30 percent, a little less than one in three.  We spoke for an hour perhaps longer.  It was now nine thirty in the morning.  The city below us had stirred fully awake.  The door shut behind me as I left, and a whoosh of air blew me outward and sealed Carla in.'

Stay tuned."

Save the Date:
The three day documentary will air on PBS from 9-11p on March 30th and 31st and April 1st.  We hope that you will tune in.  

LLS supporters will be pleased to find that a number of the major advancements made in the fight against blood cancers highlighted in this documentary came through the work of LLS-funded researchers.

No comments:

Post a Comment