DeVita/DeVita-Raeburn: The Death of Cancer

The Death of Cancer cover

Vincent T. DeVita, M.D., and
Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn (NASW member)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, November 3, 2015, $28.00
ISBN-10: 0374135606
ISBN-13: 9780374135607

DeVita-Raeburn reports:

This book evolved out of thousands of conversations with my father, former director of the National Cancer Institute, among other titles. He created the first chemotherapy regimen to cure an adult cancer at a time when chemotherapy — particularly combination chemotherapy — was very much disdained by the medical community.

Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn

Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn (photo by Nancy Crampton)

When I was growing up, we lived within a mile of the NCI. Over the course of decades, I heard my father and his colleagues talk about their work and the obstacles they faced — from nonbelievers (doctors who didn’t think cancer could be cured, and thus didn’t really try to cure their patients), to doctors too afraid to use new therapies, to roadblocks posed by the FDA, and dysfunctional cancer centers. When I became a journalist, it dawned on me that these were stories that the public needed to know. My father agreed.

Writing the proposal was difficult for all the usual reasons, i.e. synthesizing ideas and organizing them was just hard. A physician friend of my father’s who had written a book recommended his agent. The proposal generated a bidding war. We ultimately went with Sarah Crichton at FSG because she has a reputation for being a hands-on editor. (She’s wonderful.)

Vincent T. DeVita, M.D.

Vincent T. DeVita, M.D. (photo by Yale Photography)

It took us a long time to write the book. Some of the reasons were the usual ones: We clung to the original outline for too long. (It didn’t work.) It was hard to keep a regular job going and write. Life tossed a few curveballs our way. I had a second baby less than a year after signing the contract (babies are not conducive to writing on deadline). And my father himself was diagnosed with cancer. His story is in the book.

Most people, when they learn that we wrote this together, want to know what it was like. The subtext is, wasn’t it awful, working so closely with a family member? The truth is that, while not every moment was comfortable (ask him about when I cut the manuscript by two-thirds), it was wonderful, and I’m so glad we had the chance to do this together.

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