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Understanding the Emperor of Maladies

By    |   Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015 02:24 PM

The oldest surviving description of cancer is written on a papyrus in about 1600 B.C. Hieroglyphics record a probable case of breast cancer: “a bulging tumor… like touching a ball of wrappings.” Under “treatment,” the scribe concludes: “none.”

This historical note comes near the beginning of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2010 book, “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.” In the book, Mukherjee explores the evolving views of cancer as well as the promise and predicaments involved with treating it.

I read some, but I have to admit not all, of its 571 pages.

I also recently found myself engrossed in excerpts from an upcoming PBS documentary based on Mukherjee’s book, which was screened at a movie theater near my home in Western Massachusetts.

Produced by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, along with public broadcasting station WETA in Washington, D.C. and other partners, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” is a three-part, six-hour documentary directed by Barak Goodman, which is scheduled to air on PBS March 30 to April 1.

The film offers wide-ranging insights on a disease that has had a profound effect on humanity.

For example, new immunotherapy treatments are explained in gripping detail through patients like Emily Whitehead, a six-year-old girl with leukemia who was brought back from the brink of death by a doctor making a desperate effort to save her life.

The search for a cure is personified by the research pioneers who have fought ingrained misconceptions about the disease, and the emotional and physical struggles of living with cancer are illustrated by the story of a surgical oncologist who is herself battling invasive breast cancer.

Seeing real people and hearing their stories makes all the difference.

The documentary is accompanied by a website that gives viewers background information and an inside glimpse into the making of the film. It includes a producer’s blog, a story wall where people can share their own experiences with cancer, and profiles of the creators, including Burns, Mukherjee, and Laura Ziskin, the co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer, who died of breast cancer in 2011. The organization is one of the film’s sponsors.

People can also engage with the project on Twitter, via @CancerFilm or #CancerFilm, and visit the project on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CancerFilm.

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Ronni-Gordon
Produced by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, along with public broadcasting station WETA in Washington, D.C. and other partners, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” is a three-part, six-hour documentary.
cancer, PBS, Ken Burns, oncology
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2015-24-17
Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015 02:24 PM
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