March/April 2011

The Specter of the Big "C": A Modern Look at an Age-Old Malady

Reviewed By Diane Cole

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
By Siddhartha Mukherjee
Scribner. 571 pp. ISBN: 9781439107959
Purchase this book on Amazon

In a nightmare rewrite of a beloved Sesame Street ditty, the irrepressible Cookie Monster—renamed Chemo Monster—would fatalistically croon, "C is for Cancer," moan "Why me?" and warily eye his oncologist-prescribed chemical-cookie regimen before blurting out what's really on his mind: will this un-yummy treat and its side effects lead to Catastrophe, or to Cure?

Alas, so pesky and persistent is the multifarious disease we call cancer, that not even oncologists know whether there'll be a cure. Indeed, the theme that runs throughout Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is just how elusive cancer remains for those forced to contend with it—whether as patients, survivors, family members, medical researchers, physicians, or psychotherapists. Mukherjee, in addition to being a remarkably assured first-time author, is an oncologist at New York's Columbia University Medical Center. He began this book to avoid his own burnout from 24/7 immersion in the physical and emotional devastations that fatal diagnoses can cause, and that form part of…

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