Book Reviews


A Scientific Detective Tale With Consequences for the Future of Our Species

Ronald Piana  /  September 10, 2021

With completion of the Human Genome Project, medicine hit a turning point that enabled scientists to approach genetic diseases like cancer with new tools such as disruptive technologies like CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene editing. Progress in this novel techn...

An Oncologist’s Prescription: Humanity and Love

Ronald Piana  /  September 10, 2021

Cancer care is one of the most technical and scientific of all medical disciplines. Oncologists must keep abreast of a dizzying array of novel treatment options coming out of the laboratory while delivering empathetic care for the physical and emotional needs of their patients with cancer. According...

The Compelling Story of Cystic Fibrosis and the Dawn of Precision Medicine

Ronald Piana  /  July 25, 2021

Woe to the child who tastes salty from a kiss on the brow” was a forbidding prophecy from Medieval Europe, presaging unknown disease. Today, we know that salty skin is a telltale sign of cystic fibrosis in children, a disease that eluded medical identification until 1938, when an American pathologis...


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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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 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...

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. ...

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...

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...

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...

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...

A Neuroscientist Examines Intact Minds Adrift in Damaged Brains and Bodies

Ronald Piana  /  January 25, 2018

Understanding what consciousness is, and why and how it evolved, is perhaps the greatest mystery known to science. With its 100 billion or so neurons and a processing rate of about 4 billion bits per second, the human brain is a miraculously complicated entity, much of which is still under scientifi...

The Telltale Heart: A Surgeon’s Memoir

Ronald Piana  /  January 25, 2018

We don’t feel our liver or pancreas working, but we all feel our hearts beating—the drumbeat of our mortality since we all have a finite number of heartbeats from birth to death. And unlike with most other organs, we are painfully aware of how fragile this mighty muscle can be. About 610,000 people ...

Supportive Care

Inside Look at Widowers Coping With Grief

Ronald Piana  /  June 10, 2018

BOOKMARK Title: The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine LifeAuthors: Donald L. Rosenstein, MD, and Justin M. Yopp, PhDPublisher: Oxford University PressPublication Date: January 2018Price: $28.95; hardcover, 192 pages Looking back, the cancer advocacy movement took shape in two waves: the fir...

Health-Care Policy

A Dose of Destruction and Tough Love for Health Care

Ronald Piana  /  March 1, 2012

Title: The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care
 Author: Eric Topol, MD Publisher: Basic Books Publication date: February 1, 2012 Price: $27.99 / $31.00 (CAN), Hardcover, 320 pages More information:

Issues in Oncology

Medical Ethicists Reflect on Their Personal Cancer Experiences

Ronald Piana  /  July 1, 2012

The recently published book, Malignant: Medical Ethicists Confront Cancer, takes a personal look at the cancer experience from the perspective of seven medical ethicists who were also patients with cancer or cared for spouses with cancer.1 The book’s editor, Rebecca Dresser, JD, MS, who teaches law ...

Supportive Care

Getting the Right End-of-life Care: Coming to Terms with the Realities of Advanced Disease and Mortality

Ronald Piana  /  September 15, 2012

“Dying is at once a fact of life and a profound mystery.” That was the opening sentence of a 1997 Institute of Medicine report, Approaching Death: Improving Care at the End of Life, a much-needed jump-start in the national dialogue over identifying the barriers that impede the delivery of high-quali...

Issues in Oncology

Cancer Memoir Provides Inspiration for Those with Terminal Illness and Their Caregivers

Ronald Piana  /  October 15, 2012

“It almost always begins in darkness, my memory’s trip back to China where Terrence and I meet.” So begins Amanda Bennett’s moving new memoir, The Cost of Hope, the story of an intensely devoted marriage, cruelly shortened by the cancer that killed her husband. The word “darkness” in Ms. Bennett’s o...

Ambitious Call to Arms Seeks a Shift in Priorities to Eradicate Cancer

Ronald Piana  /  December 15, 2012

It has been more than 4 decades since our nation loaded its medical cannons and declared war on cancer, self-assured that money and American scientific resolve would lead to victory. But cancer has proved to be a humbling enemy. The war is now fought in targeted skirmishes; the weaponry is a growing...

Palliative Care

Important Messages about Palliative Care and Hospice at the Heart of New End-of-life Memoir 

Ronald Piana  /  February 15, 2013

The illness memoir’s appeal proves enduring in a very crowded genre, perhaps because illness is a tie that binds us all. As Susan Sontag wrote in her classic work, Illness as a Metaphor, “Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in t...

Radiation, Still Misunderstood after All These Years 

Ronald Piana  /  April 15, 2013

Over the past few decades, radiation therapies have rapidly advanced, due, in large part, to an increasing technologic armamentarium. Among modern science’s most impressive machines, for example, 220-ton particle accelerators can generate near-light-speed beams of protons, with sniper-like precision...

Issues in Oncology

The Trials and Tribulations of a Revolutionary Cancer Drug 

Ronald Piana  /  September 15, 2013

A modest brass plaque above a booth in the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, notes, “On this spot, on February 28, 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson declared the discovery of DNA with these words: ‘We have discoverewd the secret of life.’” Announcing a major scientific advance over a pint of ale is a far c...