Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Emperor of All Maladies

Cancer is a big topic. It's a major killer, a cruel riddle that science has yet to completely solve. Even though we know so much more than we did a few decades ago, people continue to die with/from all kinds of cancers.

The PBS documentary Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is a film by Barak Goodman, based on the book by Siddhartha Mukerjee, MD, PhD. Its first installment focused on leukemia and the inception of modern cancer treatment, beginning with Dr. Sidney Farber's efforts to chemically treat childhood leukemia in Boston.

The film also features one particular philanthropist who was almost singlehandedly responsible for increasing federal funding of cancer research by more then 2000 percent. Her name was Mary Lasker. Upon hearing the name Lasker I was jolted into recollection of her late husband, Albert Lasker, the advertising industry pioneer. Lasker was one of modern advertising's trailblazers, his agency was the Chicago firm of Lord & Thomas. He later sold the firm to three staffers, which gave birth to a shop called Foote, Cone & Belding.

Following her husband's death from colon cancer in 1952, Mrs. Lasker put the arm on everyone - from her socialite friends to three or four presidents of the United States - to get cancer research funded. Her efforts, combined with Dr. Farber's created what is now known as the American Cancer Society, fueled the "War on Cancer" and expanded the National Institutes of Health.

Where am I going with this? There are two things that haven't escaped my mind since viewing that first installment. First, a major irony. Albert Lasker made a fortune in the advertising business. More specifically, it was he who first persuaded women they could stay slender by smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes! Second, in terms of public funding for research, why can't we do the same thing for Alzheimer's?  

The one major difference between cancer and Alzheimer's? With cancer, there are survivors.

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