The Evolution of Modern-Day Chemotherapy:
“Too much sanity may be madness And Maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Don Quixote)
As one who has been through multiple regimens of chemotherapy, I often wondered about the names and backgrounds of the scientists and researchers who developed the cocktails that went into my body. Who was it that, toiling perhaps in windowless offices and basements or hallways, I asked myself, had developed this “poison” that kills my cancer cells. To learn the answer I spoke with my oncologist, Dr. James P. Thomas, and read books and articles. I learned more about the history of chemotherapy than I can possibly share. There are millions, it appears, who span the globe and who are and have been involved in this fight. There are highlights I wish to share with you.What seems to have become known as modern day chemotherapy is generally viewed as starting in the 1940s. Most of the following is from a book my wife, Janis, had early on in my battle said I might want to read and which which Dr. Thomas later suggested may be worth reading. The book, which makes for wonderful reading, is called The Emperor Of All Maladies. The author, Siddhartha Mukherjee, calls it a biography of cancer.
1) Paul Ehrlich: As I read the book, one man I found myself admiring is Paul Ehrlich. A scientist from Leipzig, Germany, in the late 1800s he played a significant role in arriving at the realistic concept of using chemicals – that is, chemotherapy – to fight cancer. He originally had studied the dye making industry in Germany. He saw a light others before him had not seen. In light of the chemotherapy used in my battle, how could I not find myself thinking of this man? He was earnest in his research and successful in developing this construct. He was a pioneer.
2) Dr. Sidney Farber: Another man discussed in the book for whom I feel a strong affinity is Dr. Sidney Farber, whose tireless work in a mildew stained lab in the basement of a Boston children’s hospital in the late 1940s resulted in the finding of an actual chemical compound that was able to fight childhood leukemia, a blood cancer. A former pathologist turned clinician, Dr. Farber is viewed by most as the Father of modern day chemotherapy. The Dana-Farber Cancer Clinic in Boston, part of Harvard University, is named in part after him. His findings, and subsequent findings by other researchers of blood cancer in children, caused the development of other chemicals that have been used to help kill mass tumors, the type I had. Since reading about Dr. Farber, I have spent hours doing internet searches on this man, all in a craze to learn more about one who I believe indirectly has played a role in saving my life. He died in 1971, leaving a giant footprint on the world of cancer and leaving this world a little poorer.
I marvel at these and other folks discussed in The Emperor Of All Maladies. Many of the formerly-to-me nameless and faceless folks who have spearheaded the battle against cancer come to life in that book and in subsequent readings I had done. It is as if I can now feel the pulse they each had, that I can observe their devotion to helping the lives of others.