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“The Italian memoirist Primo Levi, who survived a concentration camp and then navigated his way through a blasted Germany to his native Turin, often remarked that among the most fatal qualities of the camp was its ability to erase the idea of a life outside and beyond itself. A person’s past and his present were annihilated as a matter of course—to be in the camps was to abnegate history, identity, and personality—but it was the erasure of the future that was the most chilling. With that annihilation, Levi wrote, came a moral and spiritual death that perpetuated the status quo of imprisonment. If no life existed beyond the camp, then the distorted logic by which the camp operated became life as usual.

Cancer is not a concentration camp, but it shares the quality of annihilation: it negates the possibility of life outside and beyond itself; it subsumes all living. The daily life of a patient becomes so intensely preoccupied with his or her illness that the world fades away. Every last morsel of energy is spent tending the disease. “How to overcome him became my obsession,” the journalist Max Lerner wrote of the lymphoma in his spleen[…]”

Excerpt From:

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee