Hurrah for a change from the usual ‘type’ of cancer books
Not many people can advocate a new treatment – then years later, after reviewing evidence – change their mind.
This takes courage, and Michael Baum has it in spades. He showed this when he dared to challenge Prince Charles, and stood up to the scorn poured on him by the world’s alternative medicine practictioners.
In his fascinating and inspiring book, Breast Beating, he tells the story behind the hype. And, as he says, it is “A personal odyssey in the quest for an understanding of breast cancer, the meaning of life and other easy questions”. Just a simple book then.
Er, actually no. He takes you behind the scenes into the fascinating world of cutting edge medicine, in his quest to give his patients a better quality of life. Questioning, talking and observing, Michael never stops in his desire to do the best for his patients, and advance our knowledge of breast cancer. He sometimes comes up with theories, which he admits are challenging, but is open about what he is hoping to achieve, and never too humble to learn from others – even non-medics.
He pokes fun himself when describing the ‘Golden Finger’ award. Originally this was a joke presentation to him from his students at the end of a course. With Michael around, you had to be careful, and he had the bright idea of gilding the plaster hand with its outstretched finger (classic rectal examination pose), mounting it on a plaque, and presenting this for a student competition. This grew, became more important, and one day when he had moved on he was surprised to see a student’s CV listed The Golden Finger Award.
Sometimes he mixed in more exalted circles, and describes how Diana, Princess of Wales visited one of his wards to find a patient had just returned from an operation. “HRH stretched forward to hold the old dear’s gnarled hand at which the old dear woke with a start and without missing a beat smiled from ear to ear and said “Allo Lady Di watchyer adoing ‘ere then?'”
There is lots more, especially on his work on the ATAC trials (Arimidex, Tamoxifen Alone or Combined). Although I wasn’t his patient, I happened to mention that I had had very strong and horrid side effects from both these drugs – whereupon he spent hours sending off emails to see if he could help me. But that is typical of him. He was instrumental in developing Art Therapy, and movingly describes its effect on both his patients and himself – I am told that he used his own money to get the first programme up and running, so not only his patients, but many across the world have benefited.
Laughter can be a powerful medicine, and Michael gives us this in buckets. On returning from the launch of Breast Beating, I thought I would just dip into the book. 3 am came, I decided I really should go to bed; what medical book does that normally? But I was laughing out loud at his quirky observations, and feeling so much better as a patient (although sadly not one of Michael’s).
So enjoy reading a bit of history, a part-medical textbook and a description of Michael Baum’s theories about life.
Published by Anshan Publishing ISBN 978-1848290426 £30.