Must See TV

This short entry is to encourage those of you who are interested to watch the upcoming PBS special on cancer this week (March 30-April 1 — check your local listings for times). The 3-day, 6-hour special is produced by Ken Burns (that same Ken Burns who has documented the Civil War, baseball, and jazz) and is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book (in 2010) The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D.  You can see a trailer and read a summary of the project on Burns’ website.

Given Burns’ previous work on the Civil War, it is fitting that he would take on the topic of cancer.  Although Richard Nixon initiated the “War on Cancer” in 1971, far too many of us know that war has not been won.

I purchased a copy of Mukherjee’s book about a year ago, but decided that I would postpone reading it, for a couple of reasons.  It’s a big book — approaching 500 pages — and includes descriptions of the science and research involved with this disease, from the earliest records of its appearance in ancient Egypt to the present day. In other words, it’s not light reading.

But it is well worth reading for a better understanding of what the disease is, why it has been so hard to eradicate, and why, unfortunately, we may never be able to do so. The more we know about cancer, the more there is to know.  And although some cancers are now curable, many are not, largely because each instance of cancer is a unique illness in a unique host.

Even if you haven’t been affected by cancer, the book is worth reading for a larger understanding of a disease that is projected by the World Health Organization to increase drastically in coming years. If you’re not currently affected by cancer in some way, there’s a good chance that you eventually will be.  And though cancer once used to be considered a disease of aging, greater and greater numbers of younger people are affected by it.

The other reason I held off reading the book was my own lingering fear of the disease. To read about a topic does not mean that you will be affected by it, but too much of our talk about cancer is still fraught with fear and superstition. I had to get past that magical 5-year mark of survival before I could set aside enough of the fear to read.

If you’re not inclined to read the book, but are interested in the topic, take the shortcut.  Watch the film.


3 Responses to “Must See TV”

  1. Sue Rickels Says:

    Hi Julie–I just emerged from a week in computer hell–both computers and an important document that had to be done.  The good news is that I have found a great technician who has a small, one man business (for 5 years…great reviews) to fix the mess.  I need more memory so he’ll be back on Monday. I will definitely find the Ken Burns special on cancer.  When I was young (teens) it was thought to be just one disease, not many.  And, in the 50’s and 60’s, obituaries wouldn’t use the word…all was hush, hush–long illness, etc.  Mental illness is still in the– dark ages, so I just put on a good show or hide at home if I can’t fake normal.  The only person I’ve felt comfortable talking openly–I mean openly–about it is Mikhel, my helper in Austin (now 27)–he is living with his mother, my wonderful neighbor 2 doors down. Before the computer disaster, I thought of you every day, intending to send you a short hello.  And, I think of all you are doing–many irons in the fire.  Are you and Naomi watching the mail every day…and, of course, I thought of her with all the snow and cold in Chicago.  I hope the National Merit Scholar gives her exactly what she wants.  Cold wind off the lake and snow and all! We have had 2 beautiful, sunny (and getting hot) days in a row, but we had lots of cold and some ice and snow–enough to disrupt travel plans, esp. missing being with Kay in Dallas for her dad’s funeral.  The interstate just north of us was covered with ice for 3 days. Lots of gray skies–day after day and cold. But I thought of you and the gray skies of WA state.  It really does depress me.  I should have gotten the light box out of my storage, but it was cold and I was paralyzed with depressive inertia. I hope you have seen the provost…or will soon.  Just getting “it” out there will help.  Well, we know about the whole job situation, but having your schedule stable/steady would be a big improvement and shouldn’t cost them anything and be a way to show some appreciation. (if administrators in general are capable of such). I loved you blog on how not to choose a doctor.  I didn’t realize the extent the hospitals are controlling everything. I’m still seeing Dr. Lang who has not taken any insurance since the managed care thing appeared on the scene.  He spend an hour and a half with me last visit.  We’ve been trying different things and the thyroid is still not where it should be.  Much going on, as usual, but it’s wonderful to be totally honest with him and not be guarded about what I say to him…even using my medical language and knowledge when we talk. The drive to Ft. Worth–the trip is a bitch.  But, I hope soon it won’t be every 5 weeks or so.  I am blessed to have found him. Which reminds me–I got a letter from my wonderful Dr. Gordy after sending him his annual birthday card (his is the same day as E’s).  He says he is finally retired–no more flying around the world consulting.  I need to write him back.  There’s just a hint in his tone of being at loose ends.  That won’t last long as he is incredibly ooal-oriented. I am going to suggest he write a book–even a textbook or whatever as he knows so much, has done so many things in medicine. AND I will tell him just to get it down on paper as I have a great friend who is a fantastic, experienced medical editor….Yes, that would be good.  They moved to Puget Sound about 14 years ago when he retired from his Austin practice and chief of staff at the private mental hospital (my internist used to call it my country club…but of course with the mega hospital buyout, things changed Dr. G told me). And, of course, you would have to have time as you have Al-Mafty’s (sp) tome and other work as well.  Anyway, you and Dr. G would get along famously.  I watch/read the news with increasing horror at Obama’s actions and attitude.  Then the spread of Isis, Iran “treaty” that is not a “treaty” bypassing the Constitution, as the world seems to be racing towards WW3.  Our Arab allies like the Saudi’s don’t trust us enough to even tell us about their attack on Yemen and certainly Israel is feeling like they are going it alone. I fear the damage done, and with 2 more years, will lead us into a disastrous situation that will take decades to overcome–or if ever.  Income inequality is an excuse for pure socialism to level the playing field.  I think of the landed, educated, productive classes in Cuba and Lebanon (my cousin’s husband..weathly family, engineers) who just had to walk away from all they had, everything and get to the U.S.  to begin a new life to escape. I need to go to bed. I too have this interrupted sleep.  I know several people that do–it seems to be somehow to creep in after menopause.  I haven’t posted on your two blogs as I usually do, because Word Press won’t let me in…I need to get a new password or something, but balk at one more thing…so here’s my response. Take care…let us know when N. gets the letters of acceptance.  I rarely go to FB.  So be sure to send a one liner via email. You are going to miss her–it’s a real sea-change for you.  This sounds like an insulting analogy, but it is not as you will get my point.  A couple of weeks after Poochito died, and the sky was grey and the highs of the day were 35, the house just felt so very empty.  Those routines and his ways of doing things from morning until bedtime left an empty hole in my life…I missed him and his ways terribly.  So, you will have to adjust (and you will) to those small things, daily things with Naomi.  Such is the empty nest…well, your nest won’t be empty, nor will she be far away with Skype and phone and trips home, but things won’t be the same.  So, you will rejoice at her finding her way, her bliss off to the big-time university, but feel a loss of what once was…those things quotidian.  ( I love that word, don’t often get to use it, but it fits here). I’m off to bed. ( I just spend over two hours sleeping on the couch).  Sleep tight!

  2. Pat Carlson Says:

    It’s being recorded here Julie.

    Watched 60 Min. Last night upon seeing an ad for what the program was. It was all about how success Duke University has been with inserting the polio virus (Yes the virus) into cancers and some good success in their early phase trials. The virus seems to kill the cancer walls and lets the body’s own immune system work to cure it. Now they just have to get the amount to shoot into the cancers right as upon adding more virus in some cases has been fatal.

    Pretty interesting to say the least.


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