BOOK REVIEW

Ways to confront and combat cancer

RAMYA KANNAN

FIGHTING CANCER WITH KNOWLEDGE AND HOPE: Richard C. Frank; Byword Books Pvt. Ltd., GF-15, Virat Bhavan, Mukherjee Nagar Commercial Complex, Delhli-110009. Rs. 375.

A dream physician, Richard C. Frank is well qualified and has a great bedside manner. He will make it a point to explain complex medical terms in a language that is comprehensible and be sensitive to the patient and the family, while at the same time telling them the truth. And, above all, he will hold your hand when it needs to be held. All these salutary facets of Frank’s persona are reflected in this book, written — to use his own words — to “empower people who have been diagnosed with cancer by unlocking the mysteries of the disease and explaining in plain language the ways to confront and combat it.”

Demystify

If it is at all possible to demystify cancer as we know it today, then Frank does it. He examines cancer through the entire spectrum — from causes to types and how it spreads and to treatment and preventive measures. Since the book is meant to be a guide primarily for patients and their families, he takes the disease apart and puts it back together and, in the process, answers a number of worrying questions.

Cancer cells, he begins, unlike other cells, “don’t know how to die.” He goes on to talk how physicians have to grapple with the emotional burden of telling someone that he has cancer. These two concepts, then, remain at the core of the book throughout, as he weaves into the narration the tales of Robin, Patrick, Tom and numerous other patients. This not only makes for easy reading but facilitates the reader (patient, family or friend) to come to terms with the reality of the situation, and thereby the book achieves more than what a scientific text is capable of doing. The author does not let the scientist-researcher in him to take the high ground. Rather, he confesses upfront that the “ability to predict a cancer’s behaviour is an inexact science and there is much that science cannot explain…”

Factors

While explaining the role of cell biology in determining whether a person is cured or not, the humanist in him creates space for the “tremendous powers of the human mind, heart, and spirit” that his patients have shown. These play a vital role in the healing of the human body.

Then he proceeds to discuss, aided by diagrammatic representations, how cancer is caused by a unique mix of factors and how the good DNA goes ‘bad’ — he lists the five elements that go into determining the behaviour of a cancer: type and grade; stage; general health of patient; prognostic factors of cancer or patient; and the biological essence of cancer.

Although science is yet to be able to predict the exact course of every ‘rogue’ cell and it is widely acknowledged that each cancer, and every patient, is unique, Frank’s explanations should go a long way in satisfying the compelling need for every patient diagnosed with some form of cancer to know what went wrong. Early diagnosis and screening can help save lives, and Frank advises the people with a family history of cancer to take the screening test. He makes the point that lifestyle, diet, and physical exercise can influence the chances of developing and even surviving the disease. His abbreviation LMNOP stands for: less fat; more fruits; no smoking; organising one’s life; and physical exercise. It is also the worldwide mantra that is said to keep at bay chronic, lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

The offline and online resources provided in the book are mostly relevant to the United States. Considering that the edition is targeting readership in countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, some effort might perhaps have been put into singling out resources specific to this region.

This is a book of measured hope for every cancer patient, and for those who wish to understand the science, a fantastic opportunity.



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