The First Cell by Azra Raza: Book Review

In her passionate and gut-wrenching book on cancer, doctor Azra Raza makes a desperate call to action to the scientific world, sponsors and community at large. Her point is simple: Why do we keep focusing on treating cancer instead of focusing on discovering the first cell and eliminating it before it is able to do any damage?

It is difficult to resist getting sucked in doctor Raza’s book right from the start due to a combination of her eloquent and poignant writing and her undying passion for this subject oozing on every page. She also has an interesting story to tell, or rather many. Doctor Raza gives a grand tour of several patient cases that have meant a lot to her over her years treating acute myeloid leukemia and have taught her how to be a better doctor and a more compassionate human. These cases include her husband, an oncologist as well, who died of cancer and one of her daughter’s best friend, a young man full of dreams who suffered terribly due to his cancer diagnosis. At the same time, this book is a simple introduction to oncology and the development and treatment of cancer.

Nobody is immune to cancer and cancer can be merciless. Doctor Raza is also often merciless in her descriptions of the sufferings of patients who were also her friends. This must be one of the most difficult books I have ever read and yet I could not stop myself. I kept reading well through the night, often feeling incredibly sad and even strangely burdened. This burden is what the author bore for years and is expressed so powerfully in this book. In a sence foctor Raza is lucky because she has found her passion and she works doing what she loves everyday. The cost seems unbearable to many of us, but it is this passion that keeps her moving and always trying to do better. In this bleak landscape of death and suffering we must do better.

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