With the fascinating scholarship of The Emperor of All Maladies and the deeply personal experience of When Breath Becomes Air, a world-class oncologist examines the current state of cancer and its devastating impact on the individuals it affects including herself.
We have lost the war on cancer. We spend $150 billion each year treating it, yet a few innovations notwithstanding a patient with cancer is as likely to die of it as one was fifty years ago. Most new drugs add mere months to one's life at agonizing physical and financial cost.
In The First Cell, Azra Raza offers a searing account of how both medicine and our society (mis)treats cancer, how we can do better, and why we must. A lyrical journey from hope to despair and back again, The First Cell explores cancer from every angle: medical, scientific, cultural, and personal. Indeed, Raza describes how she bore the terrible burden of being her own husband's oncologist as he succumbed to leukemia. Like When Breath Becomes Air, The First Cell is no ordinary book of medicine, but a book of wisdom and grace by an author who has devoted her life to making the unbearable easier to bear.
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About the Author
Azra Raza is the Chan Soon-Shiong professor of medicine and the director of the MDS Center at Columbia University. In addition to publishing widely in basic and clinical cancer research, Raza is also the coeditor of the highly acclaimed website 3QuarksDaily.com. She lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
Prologue Cancer And Its Discontents 1
Introduction From Last To First 5
1 Omar: The Nobleness of Life Is to Do Thus 23
2 Per: Sandpiles and Cancer 57
3 Lady N.: A Loaded Gun 87
4 Kitty C.: What Wound Did Ever Heal but by Degrees? 123
5 JC: One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin 157
6 Andrew: Was Honesty a Choice? 179
7 Harvey: Death Stared Him in the Face, and He Stared Right Back 219
Aftermath Give Sorrow Words 257
Epilogue The Dawn Has Already Arrived 279
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Columbia University oncologist and cancer researcher Azra Raza is angry—angry about the current “protocol of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—the slash-poison-burn approach to treating cancer” which she calls “an embarrassment”; angry about the state of cancer research, which prioritizes mouse models and animal cancer research over research to “prevent the appearance of the first cancer cell by finding its earliest footprints”; angry about the cancer deaths of her patients and, most personally, her husband; and angry about whether, having failed to give her cancer patients a better life, she and other oncologists could have given them a better death. Raza wants “nothing less than a paradigm shift in cancer studies and treatment” and “The First Cell” is her manifesto for how it should happen. This is not an exhaustive scholarly study of cancer (although at times I did struggle to keep up with the science)—if you’re looking for that book, try The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, a colleague and close friend of Raza’s. “The First Cell” is a far more personal (and for me, more affecting) book, focusing as it does on the problems with current treatment protocols as demonstrated through the personal stories of many of Raza’s patients and their families, who are given a chance to tell their experiences in their own voices. Anyone who has watched a loved one suffer through cancer treatment will be nodding their heads in agreement, as I was, throughout these sections, which prove better than anything else could how high the stakes Raza is fighting for are. “To begin the ending,” she says, “we must end the beginning. Prevention will be the only compassionate, universally applicable cure.” I finished this book rooting for her and hoping her mission to completely shift the paradigm of cancer treatment succeeds. Many thanks to NetGalley and Basic Books/Hachette Book Group for providing me with an ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review.
Poetic. Thought-provoking. Impossible to put down. These are not the words I expected to write in a review of a book written by a person expert in and deeply experienced with cancer in her career and in her marriage. In the excellent THE FIRST CELL, Raza succeeds brilliantly in shining a clear light into the approach, process, and system of cancer treatment. For all the supposed advances in the battle of this devious, complex, changeable malady, there have been few significant advances in halting the inevitable, painful, life-sucking progress of cancer. Raza proposes a different approach that acknowledges complexity, pain, and focuses on wellness and genuine wellbeing. An essential read for the thinking person. I am grateful to the author for sharing her experience, perspective, and poetic turn of phrase, to the publisher and Netgalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Raza is an oncologist who has had a first-hand look at cancer through the eyes of both her patients and her husband, who died of cancer. She has seen death up close through these patients and recounts the stories of a number of them. This book is a personal memoir but is also a great discussion of the history of cancer research and treatment. Raza sees that most research funding has not been very well spent. Drugs have been developed that cost huge amounts of money, have many negative side effects, and often extend life very little. She states that the current medical model of cancer treatment of slash/poison/burn (surgery/chemotherapy/radiation) is not curing most cancers. Raza decided to focus on studying cancers in the earliest stages, including precancels in order figure out how to arrest the disease before it progresses. A quote: "there is much exciting work going on the area of detecting the first rather than the last cancer cell". This book was a difficult read because it does not whitewash all of the negative symptoms faced by her patients. I took a course on nutrition for cancer during my nutrition program. My interest in cancer treatments through nutrition were revitalized this year when my husband was diagnosed with precancerous esophageal dysplasia. This book solidified my desire to prevent cancer with natural methods and, if cancer is found, help combat it with natural treatments, including diet. I received a complementary copy from the publisher from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.