A dear friend insisted that I watch an incredible DVD by Ken Burns. While many filmmakers have made more films than Mr. Burns, nobody has ever produced more important films. This one is called Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies. Even a hardened existentialist would hesitate to watch such a DVD, so I put it on a shelf for several months, waiting until a rainy Saturday and until all demons/emotions were safely tucked away.
To repeat, it is an incredible DVD. There is a great deal of historical information. Did you know that the idea of chemotherapy arose from the bodies of British soldiers who were victims of mustard gas used by the Germans in 1917? There is a great deal of technical information. Do you know that oncogenesis means the change from a healthy cell to a cancer cell? Did you know that childhood leukemia used to be a death sentence but is now 90% curable There is a great deal of ethical information. Would you torture two dying kids so that a third dying kid could live?
Importantly, because it is a three-disc DVD, you are brought into a strange new ecosystem, the culture of cancer. I can walk thru a convention of the National Association of Business Economists or the Investment Management Consultants Association and feel perfectly conversant. While I could never walk thru a convention of the American Cancer Society and feel conversant, I think I would at least feel comfortable, purely as a result of watching this three-disc DVD. It is worth watching for that reason alone – to get comfortable with the culture of cancer. It really is OK to discuss cancer!
And, of course, there is also the requisite amount of heart-tugging. When watching the contorted, numbed faces of parents at that soul-crushing moment when they first that realize their child has no hope and would suffer a horrible death, the demons escaped. It was difficult to keep a dry eye, but my wife quickly handed me a Kleenex . . .