• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • YouTube
Thinking Out Loud

“Diseases desperate grown”

by Michael Jinkins | Jun 07, 2011

The passage is Shakespeare’s, from Hamlet:

“Diseases desperate grown

By desperate appliance are relieved,

Or not at all.”[1]

It also appears at the beginning of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s superb book, The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, one of the most penetrating and thoroughly fascinating historical investigations of a medical or scientific field I have ever read. Mukherjee’s book follows on the heels of last year’s runaway bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, a book of such profound humanity and erudition that it now appears on the required reading list for some residents in oncology. Following the publication of these two books is James L. Kugel’s In the Valley of the Shadow: On the Foundations of Religious Belief, which on one level is an inquiry into the “foundations of religious belief,” but on another is the story of a person’s struggle with mortality and meaning in the face of a very bad diagnosis.

Each of these books relate in one way or another to cancer. Each has its own story to tell. And each should be required reading for any pastor, any elder or deacon or member of a congregational care team, or anyone whose life or family has been touched by this desperate disease. Well now, that’s just about all of us.

So why should we read these books?

If ever there was a person born to tell a particular story it was Rebecca Skloot. With humanity and compassion she tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, who died of cancer in Baltimore in 1951. Cancer cells taken from her without her knowledge or consent – as they were routinely taken from countless patients in that era – showed a remarkable capacity to continue to live and to grow and to divide in laboratories, becoming the first “immortal cells.” Named the HeLa cells, they have been used in research the world over and have contributed to medical advances and saved lives beyond number. Yet, Henrietta’s family, still living in poverty, has no medical insurance to take care of the simplest procedures. This is one of the most enthralling “reads” you’ll ever come across, but it is also one of the most deeply disturbing and moving. There are cautionary, and celebratory, aspects of her and her family’s experience that we should never forget.

The Emperor of all Maladies is an enthralling “must read” for completely different reasons. Siddhartha Mukherjee does for cancer what Oliver Sacks does for neurology. He takes us deep inside the humanity of cancer. He transports us from the earliest appearance of the disease (in ancient Egypt) to the latest developments in genetics, but he never loses the human focus, the human dimension, the human costs of the disease. “Scientists,” he writes, “often study the past as obsessively as historians because few other professions depend so acutely on it. Every experiment is a conversation with a prior experiment, every new theory a refutation of the old.” At 472 pages (not counting end notes) this is not a quick and easy read. But, seriously, any pastor or care-giver who wants to understand more deeply what those with cancer are facing, what those who treat cancer are struggling to understand, and just what we are up against with the cunning disease, should read this book. Mukherjee’s compassion and humanity are only matched by his humility, as he observes near the end of the book, quoting Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute: “There are far more good historians than there are good prophets.”

The story of how Harvard professor of religion James Kugel came to terms with a highly aggressive malignancy is important because the way we face death and the threat of death has so much to do with the way we live our lives. This book will hook you from the beginning. Kugel had me on page two when he quoted William Saroyan who is reported to have said on his deathbed: “I know everyone has to die, but somehow I always thought an exception would be made in my case.” From Kugel’s superb translations and careful readings of Hebrew texts to his personal reflections on his own life and death and the significance of religious faith, this book offers, page after page, an unsympathetic, richly textured examination of ultimate reality. To say that the searing honesty of his faith is “refreshing” is vapid and silly. His searing honesty is a form of faith, and it is necessary, as when he reflects on the passage in Proverbs 12:21, “No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked are full of misfortune.” “No harm befalls the righteous” [Kugel writes] “- in what world did the author of those words live?”

Today, I am recommending three books on cancer, if you will. You may decide that you can’t read them all at once. But I do encourage you to read them all.

James L. Kugel, In the Valley of the Shadow: On the Foundations of Religious Belief (New York: Free Press, 2011).

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (New York: Scribner, 2010).

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010).


[1] William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act IV, Scene III).


Leave a comment
  1. JONY | Jun 18, 2016
    langsung 4th konstruksi hemat keluar sudah dua toko final sekarang untuk jelas dan pasti chad dan stock siap tersedia khusus konstruksi perusahaan kami rajanya untuk juta. Mengenali pusat dengan harga besi hollow harga baja wf besi h beam murah harga besi cnp 2016 harga besi unp 70 besi beton toko plat besi di tangerang harga besi siku 50.50.5 jual besi pipa galvanis
  2. WER | Jun 17, 2016
    Wearing an NFL Jersey while cheering on your team is the truest form of a fan Wholesale Jerseys 2016 . Fanatics.com know that NFL Jerseys are absolute essentials for football fanatics, that's why we devote ourselves to bringing all devout fans the best selection of NFL Football Jerseys to choose from. An NFL isn't just worn on gamedays, it's worn all year long, into the offseason, out on the town, and while hanging at home. There's no better way to keep your devotion to the team displayed all year long than putting on your favorite NFL Jersey while preparing to tackle your day.At Fanatics.com we make sure every level of fan can score the
  3. NHL
  4. they're looking for. If you're a lady that loves the game and want to switch up your gameday look with a Ladies NFL Jersey, then you'll find that right here, along with kids football jerseys for youth and even babies and toddlers
  5. MLB
  6.  , too. Men can vary what jersey to wear with our home, away and alternate NFL Jersey selection. Fanatics.com doesn't limit NFL Football Jerseys to just one style, you'll find Elite, Game and Limited jerseys that hit every price point
  7. NBA
  8. , along with NFL Jerseys on Sale for an even softer hit to your wallet. Get ready for the big game in the Bay Area with Super Bowl 50 Jerseys, available now. So go ahead, buy yourself that jersey for the player who pulled you through the fantasy football season
  9. NCAA
  10. , or cheer on the big names of your team in official Nike NFL Jerseys from Fanatics.com.NFL Elite Jerseys are the closest you'll get to suiting up in authentic NFL uniforms. The Elite NFL Jerseys are exactly like the jerseys worn on the field by your team and feature water-resistant fabric
  11. Sunglasses
  12. , Flywire strength and zoned stretched fit to stand up to the toughest plays. Pull on an Elite NFL Jersey to put yourself into the game in authentic wear.The NFL Limited Jerseys are the middle ground in the jersey game, making them popular picks for serious fans
  13. Club
  14. . Offering the quality of Flywire to resist stretching, flexible twill numbers and lettering and ventilation areas, the Limited Jerseys are an awesome jersey to grab at a great price.NFL Game Jerseys are made for more casual wear and offer lighter features that'll take a lighter hit on your wallet
  15. Soccer Country
  16. , too. Game Jerseys still come with durable construction you've come to expect from Nike NFL Jerseys, and feature silicone printed numbers and lettering for maximum comfort while showing your big-time pride. Make sure you make the right call when ordering your NFL Jersey by checking out our NFL Jersey Size Chart
  17. Hats
  18. , helpful for picking the right size football jersey for kids up to Big & Tall Sizes.While some NFL Jersey top sellers stay the same through the season, rookies and vets who make big plays often jump into the top sellers list after Sundays. Peyton Manning Jerseys sales have stayed strong
  19. Accessory
  20. , and now that he's headed to Super Bowl 50, his jerseys are head-to-head with Cam Newton Jersey sales. Patriots Jerseys are always popular, along with Tom Brady Jerseys, but Broncos Jerseys have topped the list now that they took down the Pats in the AFC Championship. John Elway Jerseys even hit a spike recently, along with Demaryius Thomas
  21. Shoes
  22. , Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, Greg Olsen, Champ Bailey and Emmanuel Sanders Jerseys rounding out the most recent top selling NFL Jerseys.
  • summira | May 09, 2016
    MEL9 indeed is a fantastic pedal, I have used it several times loved it. As I saw its name on screen I continue reading. And came across knowing more information on this topic.  Continue Reading
  • Santianna | Apr 30, 2016
    The article has helped me to learn more about the diseases that are happening now days besttermpapers.com needs more to share about the diseases.
  • Pullen | Mar 15, 2016

    The blog provided so many leadership articles on diseases desperate grown and people are thinking loud. So that, everyone must read the following cancer treatment tips. Everything I was used from this blog and thank you.

  • sadf | Mar 15, 2016
    Greeat ifno
    1. Leave a comment

      • 1044 Alta Vista Road |
      • Louisville, KY 40205 |
      • 800.264.1839 |
      • Fax: 502.895.1096 |
      • Site Map
      © Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary