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Huzzah!  A new category!  I’ve always been fond of reading and I still try and fit in at least half an hour for it, generally right before bed.  I found it’s easier to fall asleep that way.  Let’s me unwind from my day or something like that.  Anyway, because of the dearth of good fiction books recently, I’ve started to turn more and more toward non-fiction and (gasp!) even memoirs.  I don’t really have a thing against memoirs as a genre, I just don’t like how it’s become the fashionable thing to do even when you really don’t have anything of substance to put in a memoir.  Really?  Paris Hilton can write a memoir?  Seriously?  Justin Bieber has a memoir??

Anyway, I’ve been reading more non-fiction and I thought it might be interesting, as a writing exercise, to write book reports (of sorts) about the books I’ve read.  I don’t know why.  Sometimes I get these strange ideas about what is fun.  Well, they seem normal to me, but when I talk about them to other people, they think it’s really strange.  Like the time I thought it was relaxing and kind of fun to do calculus problems sometimes.  Yeah, only my sister agreed with me (she’s an astrophysicist).  Come to think of it, she’s the only one who will play basic arithmetic drills against me on Brain Age too.  I guess that’s not fun for most people too?  I don’t know.

I recently finished reading Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  It was a very interesting read.  I initially found the tone of the book a bit irritating.  I was perfectly fine listening to him speak that way (I learned about the book listening to a radio interview), but it took me awhile to get used to the fact that he also wrote that way for his book, but in the end it didn’t really retract from the story.

Things I learned:

  • Cancer is an ancient disease.  Now, I know it’s been around for awhile, but I didn’t know ancients (like Egyptians) had the ability to diagnose it.  They didn’t really call it cancer, that came later with the Greeks, but they knew what it was and that it was deadly.
  • I think breast cancer might have been the earliest cancer ever diagnosed.
  • Cancer is called cancer because the tumors they encountered reminded them of a crab with it’s legs and pincers coming off a central mass.  A lot of tumors don’t fall into this category.
  • Leukemia was once thought of just a spontaneous suppuration of the blood.  If you think about that, it gives a really funny mental picture.  To suppurate means to form or discharge pus.  Physicians thought that the blood was just spontaneously giving off pus.  I can see how they would arrive at this conclusion.  A lot of advanced leukemia patients have blood that is so chock full of confused white blood cells that it looks like it’s just pus running through their blood vessels.  In fact, that’s where the word “leukemia” comes from, white blood.  But…can you imagine your blood just spontaneously becoming pus?  Blood is running through your veins and suddenly decides that it wants to turn into pus.  That’s a very funny picture to me.  (That’s not what happens in leukemia.  Blood cell production in your bone marrow is involved.)
  • The preferred method of treatment for breast cancer used to be radical mastectomies.  I knew that, but I didn’t know how radical those mastectomies got.  Doctors, in their frenzy to get rid of the cancer, would cut away breast tissue, the muscle mass behind it, parts of the chest wall, ribs, the collar bone, lymph nodes all the way into the neck…you might as well just have removed the whole torso.  And it didn’t help.  Cancer cells metastasize and you can’t always see where they’ve gone to hide to sprout new tumors.  More than likely, they’re beyond what you can remove surgically and radical mastectomies only served to disfigure patients.
  • The way cancer develops is very interesting and it makes it hard to treat.  Think of how long you’ve been hearing about the search for the cure for cancer.  Well, it’s probably not going to happen.  I think cancer will probably always be with us.  We might be able to control it to a certain point, but we’ll never get rid of it.  Cancer is a genetic problem at the core.  It takes normal genes that are used in cell production and it messes them all up.  The thing is, it doesn’t really take that much to mess them all up.  Sometimes, the only the tiniest thing is necessary to throw things out of balance and the cell starts growing and splitting uncontrollably.  And since it’s proliferates so rapidly and incessantly, more mutations are able to occur which may feed the cycle.  It may mess up the genes that allow normal cells to move from place to place, like those for your immune system.  And then the cancer can metastasize.  What I found so interesting is how much cancer is us and not so weird foreign element in our being.  Yes, some viruseseseses can cause cancers, but it’s because they were able to pick up bits of our genes, maybe even oncogenes, and bring them back to us causing cancer.  It’s just…so interesting.

Um…I would write more and in more detail, except I forgot I wanted to actually write a book report and I returned the book to the library this morning.  So, I don’t really have a reference anymore and I’m just writing what I remember.  I obviously fail at this book report.  But then again, I haven’t written once since…high…school…?  If even that?  I probably did some book related things in high school.  Surely, I must have.

Anyway, if you are interested in learning about cancer, I would recommend reading the book.  It’s quite approachable even if you don’t have a slightly obsessive interest in medical biology and medical history.

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One Comment

  1. I can go anywhere! It’s in a book, just take a look, the Reading Rainbow!


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