Cancer’s Ordered Disorder

From The New York Times:

BookDr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s authoritative 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning “biography” of cancer, “The Emperor of All Maladies,” ran almost 600 pages. In comparison, George Johnson has written a very small book, barely half that length. That Mr. Johnson’s story is as gripping, illuminating and affecting as the bigger book — or, for that matter, any other book out there — is testament to both his poet’s talents and his unusual perspective. An award-winning science writer, Mr. Johnson was for some years an editor at The New York Times and a contributor to Science Times (where portions of this book eventually appeared). Initially, though, his interests kept him firmly on the physical science side of things, covering particles and planets, a foreign terrain that often seems enviably organized, if a little dry, to those of us in the mushier, less rigorous zones of health. Then came a sad new assignment, self-imposed: Mr. Johnson set out to learn everything he could about cancer when his then-wife received a diagnosis at a relatively young age. So he gamely crossed over from the hard sciences to the soft, Gulliver with a notepad and a recorder. He understood the language well enough, but the customs were surpassing strange.

…Mr. Johnson’s wife, Nancy, was a trim, exercising, vegetable- and fiber-chomping nonsmoker in her early 40s when she felt a lump in her groin. It proved to be a metastasis from a malevolent form of uterine cancer, one whose cells are atypically aggressive and prone to spreading. Her situation and her terrible prognosis reminded Mr. Johnson of nothing more than his New Mexico backyard, with headstrong wildflowers blooming where they choose and intractable weeds exploding by night.

More here.