Book Reviews


A Seasoned Journalist Seeking Answers Reports From the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ronald Piana  /  May 25, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic remains a global health issue, putting unprecedented stress on health-care systems, with important implications for cancer care. Although at this stage the data are fairly limited, we know that patients with cancer are far more vulnerable to worse outcomes, including a greater ...

Enduring Cancer and Its Treatment With Resilience and Humor

Ronald Piana  /  May 25, 2021

Most cancer memoirs have a similar thread: life suddenly interrupted by arguably the three most dreaded words in the English language, “You have cancer.” Readers anticipate the high-drama uncertainty leading to diagnosis, treatment, and hopefully survivorship, with multiple human storylines woven in...

Turning Confusion Into Clarity: Lessons Learned From Autism Spectrum Disorder

Ronald Piana  /  April 25, 2021

Autism spectrum disorder refers to a group of conditions characterized by difficulty in navigating normal social situations and having all-absorbing repetitive behaviors or stereotyped interests. At the milder end of the spectrum is Asperger’s syndrome, generally confined to people with higher funct...

Breast Cancer

An Oncologist and His Wife Share a Personal Cancer Story

Ronald Piana  /  April 10, 2021

Gastrointestinal oncologist John Marshall, MD, is well known for his candid observations about cancer treatment and research. In 2006, all the scientific intricacies and sociopolitical dramas of oncology coalesced in Dr. Marshall’s life when his 43-year-old wife, Liza, was diagnosed with breast canc...

It All Began With a Lump in the Throat

Ronald Piana  /  January 25, 2021

BOOKMARK Title: Milkshakes and Morphine: A Memoir of Love and LifeAuthor: Genevieve FoxPublisher: VintagePublication date: January 2019Price: $15.95, paperback, 384 pages “It doesn’t hurt, but I know it is there and I know it shouldn’t be. Interloper. I have touched it a couple of times already,...

Cancer Survivor Offers Roadmap for Managing the Turmoil of Diagnosis and Treatment

Ronald Piana  /  December 25, 2020

Although the field of psychosocial oncology had its roots in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Institute of Medicine acted on the growing data describing the impact of emotional well-being and physical recovery on quality of life, establishing guideline standards requiring that the psychosoci...

Facing Life’s Adversities, Even Cancer, From the Back of a Horse Named Buddy

Ronald Piana  /  December 10, 2020

“A bald eagle skims along the bluff where windblown Douglas firs, their exposed roots like talons, grip the eroding cliffs. Gulls circle and warn the bird of prey not to get too close. One hundred fifty feet below, the Salish Sea crashes and stretches west to the Pacific.” So begins Wild Ride Home: ...

An Emergency Room Physician Explores Her Own Healing Through a Life of Medical Service

Ronald Piana  /  November 10, 2020

Medical memoir dramas, especially those centered in the emergency room (ER), are often met with the anticipation of top-rated medical shows portrayed on TV, in which there is nonstop blood-and-guts action and sizzling tensions between shouting doctors and nurses. In her recently published memoir, Th...

A Doctor Shares His Rich Life in Medicine and Cancer Research

Ronald Piana  /  November 10, 2020

“What am I doing here? This question kept running through my mind as the incoming freshman medical students at the University of Chicago assembled for the first time.” The person asking the introspective question was Marvin Stone, fresh out of college, recently married to his wife, Jill, and now a n...

A Gritty Journey Into a Rare Cancer and Back

Ronald Piana  /  October 25, 2020

Over the past decade, a prolific number of cancer memoirs have been published, and some have been award-winning bestsellers. When entering a crowded genre, it is best to have something that sets your story apart. Judith Dwyer Fugate did just that with a memoir about a rare tumor that has rarely if e...

The Secret History of Cancer Chemotherapy

Ronald Piana  /  October 25, 2020

“The summons came in the middle of the night. He was awake at the first harsh jangle of the telephone…. Always a light sleeper, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Francis Alexander attributed the trait to his father, an old-fashioned family practitioner whose response to every late-night distress call was t...

A Health-Care Journalist Explores Breast Cancer in America, Through the Lens of Her Own Diagnosis

Ronald Piana  /  August 10, 2020

Great strides in research and clinical practice have decreased breast cancer mortality rates by more than 35% since 1990, yet about 40,000 American women die of the disease each year. In Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America, health-care journalist Kate Pickert write...

Cultivating Emotional Equanimity: Pause, Reflect, and Feel Meaning in Life, No Matter What

Ronald Piana  /  July 25, 2020

For many cultures that are addicted to the relentless quest to feel happy, perhaps as an unconscious attempt to bypass disavowed misery, grief is sort of a taboo, often pathologized and avoided by multiple means of denial. When we grieve, we’re told by well-meaning friends and relatives to “think po...

Palliative Care

A Palliative Care Specialist Explores What It Means to Live and Die With Dignity and Purpose

Ronald Piana  /  July 10, 2020

Palliative care’s road to acceptance as standard-of-care practice has been a remarkably unsmooth one, given its core mission: improving the quality of life of patients and their families by relieving the pain, symptoms, and stress of a serious or life-limiting illness. A person’s relationship with m...

A Doctor Battles a Deadly Disease and Turns Hope Into Action

Ronald Piana  /  July 10, 2020

From his early days, David Fajgenbaum, MD, was an overachiever in academics and sports, funneling his relentless drive and laser-like focus into everything he did. He dreamed of becoming a quarterback at a division I school, which he achieved, garnering a full scholarship to Georgetown University, w...

An Honored Poet Explores a Lust for Life on the Boundaries of Near Death

Ronald Piana  /  June 25, 2020

"When the technician leaves the room, I turn my head toward the screen to interpret neoplasms, the webs of nerves, the small lit fonts in which my pathology and/or future or future end might be written. The first tumor I ever saw was a darkness on that screen, round with a long craggy finger jutting...

Breast Cancer
Issues in Oncology

Comprehensive Overview of How to Start or Improve a Breast Cancer Unit on the Global Stage

Ronald Piana  /  June 10, 2020

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women worldwide. As populations age, the incidence of cancer inevitably increases—the World Health Organization has predicted a dramatic increase in global breast cancer cases during the next 15 years. Moreover, breast cancer is increasing in ...

The Story of Three Patients With Leukemia

Ronald Piana  /  May 25, 2020

The human drama within the oncology world is a never-ending story of triumph, tragedy, and all of the valiant efforts and human emotions in between. The doctor-patient relationship in oncology is deeper and longer than in most medical specialties due to the life-and-death stakes at play after a canc...

The Opioid Crisis as Told From the Streets to the Clinics and Its Unintended Consequences

Ronald Piana  /  March 25, 2020

The history of drug addictions and epidemics in the United States dates back to the Civil War, when morphine was introduced as a pain medication for wounded soldiers. Regular off-label use of morphine quickly spread from war hospitals to the general public. It is estimated that more than 400,000 Ame...

Attempt to Transform Venipuncture: A Brilliant Idea Made From Smoke and Mirrors

Ronald Piana  /  March 10, 2020

Venipuncture is the most commonly performed invasive procedure in hospitals daily. The risk of this procedure is nerve damage or an arterial nick. Of course, there are other possible issues, such as hematoma and injection-site infection. Then there’s dealing with caterwauling children and swooning a...

A Caregiver’s Tale of Struggle and Lingering Questions

Ronald Piana  /  January 25, 2020

The role of caregiver in the cancer scenario is complicated by various emotions and circumstances beyond the control of the caregiver and the person with cancer. Caregiver stress occurs when there isn’t the time to do all that’s asked or expected of one. Caregiver stress evolves into burnout when on...

A Deeper Understanding of the Miracle of the Human Body

Ronald Piana  /  January 25, 2020

Despite millennia of anatomic and biomedical search and discovery, there are parts and functions of the human body that remain a mystery. For years, medical students were taught that there are 78 organs in the human body. In February 2017, that number was revised, with the announcement of a new orga...

Issues in Oncology

The Rise and Fall of Tobacco Products in the United States

Ronald Piana  /  December 25, 2019

It was a press conference on a cold Saturday in January 1964 that had garnered international attention, but the trappings were those of a secret government meeting, behind locked doors secured by uniformed guards. To the chagrin of the reporters, “no smoking” signs had been hastily posted around the...

An Oncologist’s Thoughtful Examination of Cancer and Personal Loss

Ronald Piana  /  November 25, 2019

“I could not have written this book when I was 30 years old. It is not because of any great discoveries I have made or research papers I have published since. It is because of the experience the intervening decades have given me as I cared for thousands of cancer patients and accompanied many to the...

Not for the Squeamish: Surgery in the 19th Century

Ronald Piana  /  September 10, 2019

Imagine undergoing major surgery in a grimy operating room without any form of antisepsis. That was the grim reality in the 1800s, when the ruling theory was that damage from “bad air” was responsible for infections in surgical wounds. Hospitals simply aired out the surgical wards at midday to avoid...

A Vigorous Life Through the Prism of Impending Death

Ronald Piana  /  September 10, 2019

“Live while you’re living, friends,” writes Julie Yip-­Williams in her memoir, The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After. It was The New York Times bestseller when she died of stage IV colon cancer at the age of 42. She is the most recent of several debut...

Breast Cancer

Almost 20 Years Later, Breast Fitness Is More Relevant Than Ever

Ronald Piana  /  August 25, 2019

BOOKMARK Title: Breast Fitness: An Optimal Exercise and Health Plan for Reducing Your Risk of Breast CancerAuthors: Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD; Julie Gralow, MD; and Lisa TalbottPublisher: St. Martin’s PressPublication Date: October 2000 (first edition)Price: $48.75, hardcover, 352 pages   The Nat...

The Obesity Epidemic From a Neuroscience Perspective

Ronald Piana  /  August 10, 2019

Since the 1970s, there has been an alarming increase in obesity. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese. Excess body weight is linked to numerous diseases, including more than 14 types of cancers. ...

The Opioid Overdose Crisis: Victims, Villains, and the Gray Area in Between

Ronald Piana  /  August 10, 2019

According to politicians and the media, such as award-winning journalist Beth Macy, we are in the midst of the worst drug crisis in American history. Sparked first by oxycodone and broadening into heroin and fentanyl, opioid addiction is indeed ravaging communities across the nation, largely in econ...

Emergency Medicine Doctor Reflects on 5 Decades of Career Experiences

Ronald Piana  /  July 25, 2019

BOOKMARK Title: Patient Care: Death and Life in the Emergency RoomAuthor: Paul Seward, MDPublisher: CatapultPublication Date: July 2018Price: $22.95, hardcover, 240 page The history of emergency medicine residency training is interlaced with the impetus for specialty status in emergency medicine...

Issues in Oncology
Health-Care Policy

The Unhealthy Health-Care System, and How to Fix It

Ronald Piana  /  July 25, 2019

BOOKMARK Title: An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It BackAuthor: Elisabeth Rosenthal, MDPublisher: Penguin PressPublication Date: April 2017Price: $27.95, hardcover; 416 pages The United States spends considerably more on health care than all other wea...

Scientist, Father of A Child With Autism Pushes Back on the Antivaccine Movement

Ronald Piana  /  June 10, 2019

BOOKMARK Title: Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism DadAuthor: Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhDPublisher: Johns Hopkins University PressPublication date: October 2018Price: $22.95, hardcover; 240 pages English physician Edward Jenner invente...

From Leeches to Liquid Biopsy: Uncovering the Mysteries of Blood

Ronald Piana  /  June 10, 2019

BOOKMARK Title: Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of BloodAuthor: Rose GeorgePublisher: Metropolitan BooksPublication date: October 2018Price: $27.00, hardcover, 368 pages Blood has been mythologized and misunderstood since the earliest records of humankind and sti...

An Insider’s Account of the Nobel Prize–Winning Race to Uncover the Secret of the Ribosome

Ronald Piana  /  May 25, 2019

Situated in the nucleus of the human cell is DNA, the secret of life discovered by the Nobel Prize laureates Drs. Watson and Crick. More recently, another scientist, Venki Ramakrishnan, PhD, won a Nobel Prize for his work in uncovering another secret within the human cell: the structure of the ribos...

Unlocking the Secrets of the Immune System, Story by Story

Ronald Piana  /  May 25, 2019

The story of immunotherapy is one of the most interesting and provocative in medical history. William B. Coley, MD, first harnessed the immune system against cancer in the late 19th century by injecting mixtures of live and inactivated bacteria into patients’ tumors. For various reasons, immunothera...

Obesity, Examined and Explained

Ronald Piana  /  March 25, 2019

BOOKMARK Title: The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight LossAuthor: Jason Fung, MDPublisher: Greystone BooksDate: March 2016Price: $18.95, paperback; 296 pages According to data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), obesity plays a significant role in developing at least 12 differe...

Humanitarian, Cancer Specialist Advocates for Universal Access to Care as a Basic Human Right

Ronald Piana  /  March 10, 2019

There is a plethora of educational books for patients with cancer and their families; advocates and patients themselves write most. Books in this genre often have a difficult time distilling the hard science of oncology into a lay-friendly narrative that keeps the reader engaged from cover to cover....

Issues in Oncology

Former JAMA Editor Offers Perspective on Challenges Past and Present in American Health Care

Ronald Piana  /  February 25, 2019

BOOKMARK Title: Severed Trust: Why American Medicine Hasn’t Been FixedAuthor: George D. Lundberg, MD, With James StaceyPublisher: Basic BooksPublication date: March 2001Price: $28.00, hardcover, 336 pages Pathologist George D. Lundberg, MD, served as Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of the America...


Stories of the Scientists Behind Immunotherapy

Ronald Piana  /  December 25, 2018

As the field of immunotherapy accelerates, so does the literature reporting on the path ahead. One of the newer books on the topic is A Cure Within: Scientists Unleashing the Immune System to Kill Cancer. It has a top-notch pedigree: the author, Neil Canavan, is a seasoned journalist with more than ...

Issues in Oncology

A Feminist Take on Health-Care Disparities

Ronald Piana  /  December 10, 2018

BOOKMARK Title: Doing Harm: The Truth About Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and SickAuthor: Maya DusenberyPublisher: HarperOnePublication date: March 2018Price: $27.99, hardcover, 400 pages Over the past year or so, there have been several books by women focuse...

Neurologic Knowledge to Enhance Well-Being and Happiness

Ronald Piana  /  December 10, 2018

BOOKMARK Title: Your Happy Brain: Why and How to Hug ItAuthors: Philomena Lawrence, BA, BEd, and Gilbert Lawrence, MD, FRCRPublisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing PlatformPublication date: June 2018Price: $16.00, paperback, 390 pages Some 2,400 years ago, the ancient Greeks were among the ...

Hematologic Malignancies

A Battle With Leukemia: Part Memoir, Part Oncology History

Ronald Piana  /  December 10, 2018

BOOKMARK Title: Cancer Crossings: A Brother, His Doctors, and the Quest for a Cure to Childhood LeukemiaAuthor: Tim WendelPublisher: ILR PressPublication date: April 2018Price: $24.95, hardcover, 256 pages Tim Wendel is a journalist and author of several noted books, mostly concerning sports. In...

When Illness and Culture Collide

Ronald Piana  /  November 25, 2018

“‘Sickness’ is what is happening to the patient. Listen to him. Disease is what is happening to science and to populations.” —Lawrence Weed, MD, 1978 America’s massive health-care system is highly complex, with its own unique language, methods, technologies, and scientific approaches, developed an...

Founder of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Relates the History of Cancer Research

Ronald Piana  /  November 25, 2018

Cancer memoirs are generally written by people who have an intimate relationship with the disease, mostly survivors, sometimes by those who are dying while writing, such as the breathtaking book, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, by the poet Nina Riggs. Once in a while, a scientist or p...

A Pediatric Oncologist Recounts 7 Years at a Hospital in Jerusalem

Ronald Piana  /  November 25, 2018

Elisha Waldman, MD, is a pediatric oncologist and Associate Chief in the Division of Palliative Care at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. He grew up in a Connecticut suburb, the son of a conservative rabbi. Early on, Dr. Waldman majored in religious studies and felt spiritu...

Family Archivist Holds Joyful Memories Amid Grief of Losing Loved Ones

Ronald Piana  /  November 10, 2018

BOOKMARK Title: The Trail to Tincup: Love Stories at Life’s EndEditors: Joyce Lynnette HockerPublisher: She Writes PressPublication date: May 2018Price: $23.95, hardcover, 288 pages Human mortality is embedded in the day-to-day challenges of clinical oncology; a cancer diagnosis is a reality che...

Living a Full Life After a Diagnosis of Cancer

Ronald Piana  /  November 10, 2018

BOOKMARK Title: Here We Grow: Mindfulness Through Cancer and BeyondAuthor: Paige DavisPublisher: She Writes PressDate: May 2018Price: $22.95, paperback, 154 pages Since the publication of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s best-selling book, When Breath Becomes Air, about his diagnosis of cancer and untimely ...

On Aging and the Wellness Industry

Ronald Piana  /  October 10, 2018

Only a few centuries ago, the major source of moral and scientific authority in Western culture was religion, which requires trusting one of numerous supernatural deities. However, the presumption that medicine is based on evidence-based and peer-reviewed science is what gives it authority in modern...

Learning to Listen and Returning to the Art of Medicine

Ronald Piana  /  October 10, 2018

Bernard Lown, MD, was born in Lithuania, the son of a rabbi. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 14, where his scientific precocity bloomed. After attaining his medical degree from John Hopkins University School of Medicine, he pursued his passion of raising international awareness of s...

A Daughter Struggles Through Her Father’s Battle With Cancer

Ronald Piana  /  September 10, 2018

BOOKMARK Title: White Hot Grief Parade: A Memoir Author: Alexandra Silber Publisher: Pegasus Books Publication date: July 2018 Price: $25.95, hardcover; 288 pages   The sudden death of a loved one produces a different type of trauma for family and friends than the protracted fading away of ...