Cathy’s Plano Race Blog: The Emperor of All Maladies

Ken Burns’ film, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies” had so much amazing information.  Read this blog for Cathy’s perspective as a cancer survivor.

For this week’s blog posting, I was asked to watch Ken Burns’ documentary, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a Barak Goodman film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee.  If you missed it, I would highly recommend going to the PBS website to watch or order a copy of the book or the movie.  The movie is also available for download from iTunes.

The documentary was broadcast as a 3-part mini-series chronicling the history of cancer, treatment, and research.  They told stories of real people facing diagnosis and treatment.  It was an honest look, showing both the success and survival stories as well as the darker side of treatment, surgeries, and research failures.  The film depicted the entire history of diagnosis and treatment for the more common breast, lung, and skin cancers, as well as childhood leukemia.

I don’t want to spend this blog giving a recap of the series.  If you want that, go to the PBS site.  Rather, I want to give my insights as a cancer survivor, and the spouse of a cancer victim.

Knowledge is power.  This series delivered so much useful information.  I better understand the logic behind the radical mastectomy, and am doubly grateful for the studies performed by Dr. Fisher showing that, in some cases, a lumpectomy was equally effective.

I was also fascinated by how little people understood about cancer as opposed to what we know today.  I was floored by the idea that cancer across the board was thought to be a single disease (as opposed to a family of diseases) and that people believed there could be a single treatment plan.  Heck, with breast cancer alone there are at least 4 “varieties” and each has a unique “standard” treatment plan.

I have four takeaways from the film:

  1. I am thankful that I was diagnosed and treated for cancer in this century.  Treatment plans are individualized both for the patient and the type of cancer.
  2. I appreciate that there is a specialization in oncology – nursing, surgeons, and radiologists, who are devoted to treating cancer patients.
  3. International cooperation helped lay the foundation for what we know about cancer today.  Synergy has been key to advances in treatment and diagnosis.
  4. While we know significantly more today than we did before, there is still a long way to go.  At the same time, each advance made, means more lives saved, and that is a very positive thing.

To paraphrase Doctor Mukherjee, critics say that cancer research has been a perpetual cycle of hope and despair.  However, this has moved us forward and will continue to transform us over the future.  If the cancer cell is evolving, so must we.

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