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Dimensions of Cancer

Getting diagnosed with cancer is like

entering a foreign land with an unknown

language and no clear roadmap.

It takes some time to get your bearings.

-Bob Riter, Director for the Cancer
Resource Center of the Finger Lakes

The cancer community involves an enormous variety of people, institutions, and systems. Depending on your position, cancer looks very different. Our class will explore the cancer landscape in Tompkins County. We will write the stories of people and organizations that grapple with cancer in our local community. We will reflect on the multiple dimensions of cancer and how each perspective contributes to a deeper understanding of this disease.

Course Information

“Medicine begins with storytelling. Patients tell stories to describe illness; doctors tell stories to understand it. Science tells its own story to explain diseases.”                              –Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies

Cancer is an intricate disease on all scales: at the microscopic level, malignant cells evolve within a complex biological landscape. At the human level, the diagnosis accompanies a cascade of physical, emotional, and financial stresses. On population and institutional levels, cancer constitutes a morbid epidemic, and enormous resources are exchanged in the relentless quest for effective treatments.

In the cancer discourse, the mutual exchange of knowledge, experiences, and ideas requires skillful communication. Through the language of cancer, you will craft cogent, felicitous arguments. You will practice strategies to improve your clarity, adaptivity, and intellectual force.

Week Tuesday Thursday
0 COE Team & Leadership
1 Personal Statement Workshop Cancer & Identity Workshop
2 Intergroup Dialogue Project Proposal Workshop
3 Community Mapping Q&A: Bob Riter, CRCFL
4 Feb Break Johnson Museum Session
5 Ethics of Public Engagement Thesis Workshop
6 Co-Curricular Activity “Adventures in Writing”
7 Group Presentations Library Research Session
8 Q&A: Deb Danko, CMC Outlining Workshop
9 Q&A: Bob Weiss, Cornell Support Group Session
Spring Break Spring Break
10 Mid-Semester Assessment Stefan Senders Workshop
11 CHESS Tour Projects Workshop
12 Q&A: Chris Prakash, TX Oncology Peer Review Workshop
13 Patient/Survivor Interviews Reflection Workshop
14 Portfolio Presentations
How is cancer portrayed in public media (news, art, films, literature)?
What are the patterns of inequality in cancer (risk, treatment, survival, impacts)?
What are the costs of cancer (micro/macro economics, personal finance)?
How has our understanding of cancer changed over time? What is the history of cancer?
How can we reduce the prevalence of cancer? How can we increase public awareness and prevention?
What kinds of research are happening at Cornell? How does the research system operate?
In what ways is cancer the same or different in Ithaca versus another location (another town, another state, another country)?
What are the social or environmental factors that have a positive or negative impact on cancer?
What is the role of non-profit organizations in cancer?
How is life different after cancer?
What are the political dimensions of cancer? How do local, state, or federal governments influence cancer?
What is the relationship between different dimensions of the cancer ecosystem? How are they connected, and how could these relationships be strengthened?
How has an individual or group of individuals been affected by cancer?
How can therapy be more accessible to cancer patients?
When Breath Becomes Air
Being Mortal
Memoir of a Debulked Woman
The Cancer Journals
Mom’s Cancer
Living Downstream
Emperor of All Maladies
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Natural Obsessions
Dr. Folkman’s War
The Double Helix
The Philadelphia Chromosome
The Health Gap
The Cancer Chronicles
p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code
Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us
Pandora’s DNA
The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess
Teratologies: A Cultural Study of Cancer
Other Books
When Your Life is Touched by Cancer
The Secret History of the War on Cancer
The Truth About Cancer
Textbooks The Biology of Cancer
& Websites
Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes
National Cancer Institute
American Cancer Society
American Association for Cancer Research
American Society for Clinical Oncology
Center for Disease Control
Cancer Atlas
Research Databases
& Academic Journals
Web of Science
Nature Reviews Cancer
Nature Publishing Group
Science Magazine
BMJ Cancer
Public Media 
& Magazines
Cancer Today
Cancer Ward
The Fault in our Stars
My Sister’s Keeper
The Middle Place
Me, Earle, and the Dying Girl
The Emperor of All Maladies
Field Trips
Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes
Cayuga Medical Center
Guthry Clinic
Tompkins County Board of Health
Cornell Relay for Life
Lab tour
Interview / Coffee
Cornell faculty, staff, students
Personal connections (family, friends, colleagues)
Community members from government, business, healthcare, etc
CRC film screening at Cinemapolis
Lead a Cornell student org activity
Fundraisers or volunteer programs
Plan an event or activity (e.g. a guest speaker or focus group)
Website or Wiki
Google map of cancer-related locations in Tompkins County
Digital exhibit from the Johnson Museum archives
Online calendar of events for cancer-related activities
Fact sheet or info-graphic
Presentation or video related to your project
Guidebook to cancer-related activities & organizations at Cornell/Ithaca
Letter to an elected official
Shutterfly album or newsletter (e.g. photo-album: “what cancer patients want scientists to know about cancer”)
Article / letter to the editor for the Daily Sun or Ithaca Voice
Article for a cancer journal or magazine, such as Cancer Today, Cure, or scientific publication
Career paths toward cancer-related jobs
Demographic / community mapping exercise
Biographies or public narratives of individuals or institutions
Essay Expository report on the topic that you investigated
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