The First Cell

A nonfiction book by Azra Raza.

Azra Raza

We have lost the war on cancer. We spend $150 billion each year treating it, yet — a few innovations notwithstanding — a patient with cancer is as likely to die of it as one was 50 years ago. Most new drugs add mere months to one's life at agonizing physical and financial cost.

In The First Cell, Azra Raza offers a searing account of how both medicine and our society (mis)treats cancer, how we can do better and why we must. A lyrical journey from hope to despair and back again, The First Cell explores cancer from every angle: medical, scientific, cultural, and personal. Indeed, Raza describes how she bore the terrible burden of being her own husband's oncologist as he succumbed to leukemia. Like When Breath Becomes AirThe First Cell is no ordinary book of medicine, but a book of wisdom and grace by an author who has devoted her life to making the unbearable easier to bear. (From Basic Books)

From the book

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 their deaths. Because the disease I treat is generally fatal, solace seems contrived, personal academic success egregious. My surroundings may not have changed much, but my perceptions have. I have learned to reexamine things I took for granted, to seek comfort in odd places. I have learned new things about what I thought I already knew: like the difference between illness and disease; between what it means to cure and to heal; between what it means to feel no pain and to feel well; about the harrowing nature of keeping appointments one never made. In clinic, in scientific meetings, I have felt like a fraud, a posturing intellectual phony. The complexity of another's illness has made my own life appear simpler; in the march to death, I have begun to catalog the tragedies of survival. From time to time, I even feel buoyed without reprieve.

From The First Cell by Azra Raza ©2019. Published by Basic Books.

More from Azra Raza