Stories of loss and hope from distinguished Harvard oncologist Scadden.
Having spent much of his career on the cancer battlegrounds, the author writes with authority that cancer is an “immutable fact of life.” When Scadden was growing up in the 1950s, he was confused and traumatized by the cancer deaths of three people he knew. As a medical student at Case Western Reserve University, the author encountered his first patient cases, which prepared him for a livelihood built on a delicate combination of medical precision and compassionate humanity. Scadden shares poignant and moving anecdotes of his patients as a student earning a real-world medical education—e.g., learning about childbirth from a gracious pregnant woman or delivering a devastating prognosis to a lymphoma victim. The author’s account of the personal pain of watching his own parents navigate cancer treatments leads into a probing discussion on how far early formative therapies have evolved, including how his work with stem cell research has branched out to encompass a wide array of afflictions. Scadden effectively weaves in clinical information on viral growth, research studies from a variety of medical revolutionaries, dissections of the early misconceptions and physiological mechanics of cancer, and a timeline for the AIDS epidemic, which he believes “gave every doctor, nurse, therapist, or technician the chance to become a better caregiver.” As co-founder of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Scadden is partly responsible for numerous medical breakthroughs through bone marrow stem cell research. He reminds readers that those dismal days of scant hope are gone and that the promise of modern technology and radical curative immunotherapies (including those he continues to develop) is making cancer a disease “that changes people’s lives, but [is] something they can speak of in past tense.” Lay readers may want to skirt around the book’s later chapters, laden with frequently complex medical jargon, to get to the heart and soul of Scadden’s passion.
Illuminating reading on the legacy of a cancer authority.