One in two men and one in three women will have a single diagnosis in common: cancer. For years, this was a shameful secret. Now, a huge number of us are “living cancer” – whether we’re being treated ourselves, or helping a family member or friend.
When the Pulitzer-prize winning book by Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies, was published, it was a relief to many people. It provided needed context for the various treatments one encounters: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy – all blunt, destructive tools used to cure or manage cancer.
Now that book is being turned into a three-part PBS documentary by filmmaker Barak Goodman, presented by Ken Burns. In collaboration with that production, WNYC Radio has created Living Cancer, a series that examines the current landscape of cancer treatment.
“It was informative, it was inspiring, and it just made all these things that I didn’t understand at the time make sense,” Aronczyk said of Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies. “And I think that’s an experience that a lot of people have of the book, and will hopefully have of the radio series as well.”
For WNYC health editor Mary Harris, reporting on cancer also became a personal process when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2013 and shortly after found out she was pregnant. The resulting Living Cancer story follows Harris through her pregnancy, chemotherapy and the birth and early infancy of her daughter.
Harris described the experience of being on the other side of the microphone as cathartic. “Being able to talk about what I was going through as I was going through it felt like I had a lot more power over it,” said Harris.
Living Cancer also takes you inside the shifting science of cancer treatment. New drug protocols, like immunotherapy and targeted drugs, offer hope for many, while remaining just out of reach for others.
“This particular family that I told a story about really found themselves at a terrible period of time, where they knew quite certainly that they thought they had a drug that would help. And they weren’t able to get it,” Aronczyk told Pi Roman.
Overall, there has been progress. We use the term “cancer” in the singular, while in reality, “cancers” is more apt. And many cancers are treatable – giving patients more time, and sometimes, cures. As more and more patients survive a cancer diagnosis, living with cancer has become part of many of our lives, and what originally seemed like a medical crisis can become part of an everyday routine.
Tune into WNYC’s two-part series Living Cancer from February 9-13 and March 23-27, 2015. Listen to the first part of the series at WNYC’s Living Cancer page.