"With his strong foundation in medicine, Westman looks at the disease’s many facets: as a mysterious biological entity, as a sprawling research field, as a wily opponent of treatment, and as a distressing diagnosis for loved ones."– Kirkus Reviews
In order to grasp the enormity of a shape-shifting disease, this examination prods cancer from all angles.
Academic physician Westman (Psychiatry/Univ. of Wisconsin; Licensing Parents, 2007, etc.) approaches the subject of cancer from the perspectives of both a doctor and a caregiver. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and fought the disease for 34 years, from her initial treatment, through remission, and a second recurrence. With his strong foundation in medicine, Westman looks at the disease’s many facets: as a mysterious biological entity, as a sprawling research field, as a wily opponent of treatment, and as a distressing diagnosis for loved ones. In particular, he points out that “cancer” is, in some ways, a catchall term for an underlying process called neoplasia. He highlights what he calls an outsize emphasis on search-and-destroy tactics, which are evident in the common treatment triumvirate: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. His curiosity about the field as an area of research led him to consider more innovative, yet vastly underfunded, treatments, including immunotherapy and nutritional therapy. Westman devotes an entire chapter to each of these, summarizing researchers’ discoveries and examining what future questions they might explore. He critiques current types of research, such as the study of tumors rather than metastasis and the use of mice as cancer models even though their systems function differently from humans’. The author agrees with other biomedical critics on the instability and poor dispersion of research funding; he believes that drug companies would be better served by devoting more time and resources to breakthrough innovations rather than making incremental improvements to current methods. Researchers need to get a deeper understanding of metabolic function of malignant cells, he says, instead of focusing on DNA markers for certain cancer types. The author’s thorough explanations don’t presume that readers have extensive medical backgrounds, so many of the research discussions and descriptions of biological processes will be suitable for laypersons. His clear voice and thoughtful approach illuminate the current state of oncology. Although he doesn’t provide solutions for curing cancer, he manages to dissolve some of the ambiguity and fear surrounding this intimidating disease.
A rigorous investigation of the cancer research-and-treatment landscape.
Westman, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, questions what rights children have over their own care.
As a nation, are we denying children their basic rights of humanity by favoring their parents’ rights over their own? Westman examines such controversial questions and considers how certain standards of parenthood should be upheld. In a thoughtful, thorough investigation into what has gone wrong in the child-parent-family dynamic, Westman focuses on our cultural, societal and political systems. One of the main problems, he says, is “juvenile ageism,” or our failure to consider children as full citizens in need of and deserving of parents who are qualified to manage their care. Equally problematic, he says, is that parenthood isn’t treated as a career—a damaging, ultimately counterproductive problem, he says, since many parents do not have the emotional, financial and logistical support necessary to take care of their children. “This decline in family wellbeing,” Westman writes, “deprives us of parents who are able to develop the characters and wellbeing of our young people…our nation’s greatest natural resource.” This isn’t only an issue of children’s rights, though, but a larger social concern, since these children ultimately grow into adults who will either contribute positively to society or perpetuate cycles of abuse and neglect. Westman deftly takes on assumptions about parenthood and child care—for example, the idea that a genetic connection is an automatic basis for a parent to have custody of their child even if that parent is too young and/or incompetent to handle the responsibility. In that vein, Westman makes a solid argument that, as a society, we need to be more proactive in helping both parents and children. One of his more controversial proposals is the idea that minors, people with mental health problems and/or anyone currently incarcerated should go through a certification process to make sure they are competent to take on the responsibility of parenthood. This burden isn’t punitive, Westman argues, but an effort to provide support and guidance to help parents create healthy, sustainable and safe family structures.
Shatters some preconceived notions of parenthood and presents a solution-oriented response to strengthening the family.