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"The Emperor of All Maladies - A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I've started my final graduation project late of last year. I knew I want to do something that matters and impact people's lives in a positive way, whether the solution was a product, a system or a service. The idea of working with cancer occurred to me by my family history - we had a lot of cancer cases in the last few years. Some of them were cured (my mom is one of the cases - she fought against a breast cancer a few years ago and now she's totally cured) but others, like my uncle and my aunt, fought bravely but didn't resist, dying after the tumor had spread to other organs. And now my aunt, my mom's sister, is now fighting against a breast cancer too. She is in the middle of the treatment, which is really painful not only for the person, but for all the people who they care about. The patient suffers the consequences of chemotherapy, which kills not only malignant cells, but also the normal ones. The more advanced is the stage of the cancer, more difficult is the treatment and the cure. 

As a designer, I started to think what can I do to help people against this giant enemy that haunts people over the centuries. This february, Cancer Research UK unveiled a study which points that 50% of people born after 1960s will have cancer. It's a impressive number caused by the increase of life expectancy and facts of life style like alcohol, smoke and poor diet.

I've started the research phase beginning of this year, talking to a lot of people and reading a lot about the disease. I've now finished this book "The Emperor of All Maladies - A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which tells all the history of cancer and the efforts of the humanity to try to find the cure of this illness. It's almost 550 pages of detailed description of experiments and studies that led to what we know about cancer these days. 

Mukherjee is an oncologist of Columbia University, and all the time he makes a parallel in history citing cases of patients he treated in actual days. The book becomes a narrative with science and technology datas but with a truly human and accessible speech, with a smart and compassion storytelling. We can feel and understand the feelings, frustrations and thoughts of scientists, doctors, biologists and patients in this war against one of the worst and complex diseases of all times. 

The first documentation of cancer in history is a papyrus from old Egypt which a doctor describes a protruding mass in the chest in which there was no treatment. However cancer had attention in media only in 1950 because before that people normally died by others diseases. The increase of life expectancy increased the number of cancer cases too - the mutations is also linked to aging of cells - making it one of the biggest killers of humanity. After all the fights of some people to put cancer the due attention it deserves in media, they finally started to receive investments to do research to understand cancer and find drugs to cure patients.

But cancer is really complex because it's not a singular disease, but a group of a lot of types of diseases. They all have something in common - a mutation in a sequence of genes making the cells start to divide without control and gain the capacity to move, survivor in others environments and have immortality - but they all behave in a particular and singular way. Create a general cure or solution is something almost impossible.

In these days, what we know about cancer evolved a lot in the last few years and decades, but we are far away to understand everything about this malady. However there are tools that we can use to fight this war. A lot of diseases had their mortality rate decreased not only by drugs or treatments, but also by better sanitation in cities and awareness of society of what they can do to avoid the illness. Prevention and early diagnosis is the key for most of these diseases, and it's the same for most cancer cases. The earlier we discover the cancer, the better chances to cure we have. As the cancer is really complex, the prevention become some really complex too. But nowadays we have a lot of tools and technologies in the hands of most people that I truly believe that we can create something to help people in this fight. And that's where i'm pointing in my project.

Danilo SaitoComment