Can medicine be described in stories?

Siddhartha Mukherjee • FEBRUARY 16, 2014

Siddhartha Mukherjee of Columbia University discusses medicine, history, and more in relation to his book, The Emperor of All Maladies. The main character in his book, he says, is Sidney Farber, the father of modern chemotherapy, because Farber's career is a metaphorical parallel with cancer itself. Just as Farber emerges from the "basement" to the development of chemotherapy, and finally on to public prominence, so does cancer. Over the course of thousands of years, cancer has made the same journey out of the dark into something that can be talked about today. Mukherjee notes how philanthropic energy (supplied by Mary Lasker) brought urgency to the war on cancer, and how interest groups in the 1960s and 1970s felt they could lobby Congress to spend more money on medical research and thereby cure cancer. Mukherjee calls this period a moment in time that haunts oncology. Today, however, he says, we understand that there is no one easy cure; there is no simple Penicillin for cancer.

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