Wishart has created something that will offer comfort to thousands: patients and their relatives may now better understand the reasoning behind some of the investigations and treatments they undergo. And by highlighting successes, medicine's aim of making cancer something we live with, not die from, seems less of a distant hope.
In search of the cure
One in Three: A Son's Journey into the History and Science of Cancer
Profile Books, 2006.
In my view, the best doctors are those who truly remember what it is like to lie on the examination couch. If ever there was a book that could remind health professionals of patients' need for information, empathy, and humanity, this is it.
By recounting the story of his father's illness, Adam Wishart captures so well what it is to be in a position of powerlessness and confusion when facing cancer. Offering us more than a simple narrative of his experiences, Wishart is courageous enough to try to answer the two questions “one in three” of us may eventually ask “why me?” and “why isn't there a cure?”
Going back more than 2000 years to the first recorded cases of cancer may seem an over-zealous way to tackle a modern-day scourge. But such a step does remind us that we are wrestling with a very old and very complex problem. His father's love of science has influenced Wishart deeply, and shows itself in the close attention to detail he uses to guide us confidently through complex advances in specialties such as molecular genetics. Although some of the language used is necessarily quite technical, it is never off-putting. Jargon is well explained, and balanced nicely by excerpts from interviews with scientists who led their fields and made the past breakthroughs we now rely upon. Pioneering science aside, Wishart is brilliant at explaining the political manoeuvrings of researchers looking for funding and recognition. In the past, as today, politics, timing, and luck form more than just the background to many innovations.
Although professionals will benefit immensely from reading One in Three, patients are the real targets of this part-biography, part-medical history. By bravely using his father's story to add the sparkle of humanity and reality to his immaculately researched tale of medicine's struggle with cancer, Wishart has created something that will offer comfort to thousands: patients and their relatives may now better understand the reasoning behind some of the investigations and treatments they undergo. And by highlighting successes, medicine's aim of making cancer something we live with, not die from, seems less of a distant hope.
Part of cancer's power to devastate is hidden within its status as a great unknown; if we can remove some of the mystery, then perhaps we can lessen the harm it does. As I finished this book, I hoped that the author's public exposure of his own wranglings with the injustice of cancer had gone some way to answering difficult questions. And I hoped that, through writing his book, Wishart himself found some peace.