Reflections on “The Emperor of Maladies”

So far, I am loving this book! But the volume of information is astounding and the intricacies concentrated on each page is overwhelming. Having a background in the history of health studies, I can really appreciate the author’s (so far successful) attempt to map out a biography for the biggest health problem in our modern day.

The author, Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher at Colombia University. The book itself has won a Pulitzer and has some rave reviews from the Oprah Magazine. His new way of looking at disease as a living entity is changing how we read history and the major players in the century-long war over cancer.

On this page, you will find my own reflections as I frequent this 567-page killer.

A not-so-modern mystery: Case 45

The prologue goes into the myth of Cancer being a “modern disease”. Cancer has always existed and the earliest recordings of the disease goes back to the recordings of an eclectic mystic-slash-physician in Ancient Egypt, Imhotep. *I thought it was interesting that this name was used to name the main villain in The Mummy series* According to Mukherjee’s research, Imhotep was the royal vizier in the court of King Djozer, whose findings were described without the crutch of the supernatural. In a world where health care consisted of spells, incantations and offerings to the divine, this is truly remarkable. The papyrus recordings of Imhotep’s work was translated in 1930 and read as if it were a surgical manual, describing parts of the body as the cause of ailment. As for the illusive Case 45, he describes a mass on the breast that Mukherjee immediately identifies as cancer through Imhotep’s detailed descriptions of Case 45. Unfortunately for him, in his “Treatment” section for case 45, he is defeated–“There is no treatment”.


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