CRF Blog

The Cancer Chronicles

by Bill Hayes

In his book The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery, George Johnson reports on what cancer is.

From the New York Times Book Review:

For starters I’ll just say that, among a small cluster of very good recent books on cancer, including “The Emperor of All Maladies,” by Siddhartha Mukherjee; “The Philadelphia Chromosome,” by Jessica Wapner; and “The Truth in Small Doses,” by Clifton Leaf, Johnson’s stands out as especially illuminating, forceful and, in its own quiet way, profound. He tells two stories, woven together like a cable of copper and silk: a story of research in the laboratories and a personal story about the uterine cancer that struck his wife, Nancy, in 2003. He writes from two perspectives, as a husband and as a reporter (who has often written for The New York Times), but his voice is steady throughout. He’s a pilgrim as well as a guide who moves easily through the arcana of journal papers, the blur of statistics in official reports, the historical and prehistoric records (going back to a dinosaur that suffered a bone tumor 150 million years ago), the interviews with experts and onward along his and his wife’s journey through the hospital corridors, the waiting rooms of busy oncologists and surgeons, the chemo lounge with its cheerless Christmas decorations, such as await us all. When it comes time for Nancy’s radiation treatments, though, she must enter the lead-lined chamber by herself, a reminder to Johnson, and to us, that even the most sympathetic spouse and the most assiduous reporter can’t apprehend cancer the way a patient does. [more]