On-Demand Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies TV Series

On-Demand Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies TV Series

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 9:00pm - Wed, 04/29/2015 - 11:00pm

Dr. Sidney Farber, considered the father of modern chemotherapy, pictured at left with colleagues, c. 1950.

Credit: Courtesy of Dana Farber Institute

This “biography” of cancer covers its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the 20th century to cure, control and conquer cancer. On-Demand

Watch the Series On-Demand: (Episodes: Expire 4/27 & 4/29)

Ken Burns Presents Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,a three-part, six-hour documentary directed by award-winning filmmaker Barak Goodman and executive produced by Ken Burns, premieres Monday, March 30 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV, and runs nightly through Wednesday, April 1. The project includes the documentary series, nearly two dozen webcast short films by Redglass Pictures and a comprehensive national campaign with engagement partner Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) and an array of other project supporters. A collaboration of Florentine Films, Laura Ziskin Pictures and WETA Washington, DC, in association with Ark Media, the series is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (Simon & Schuster 2010) by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D. At the urging of SU2C co-founder, the late Laura Ziskin, the Entertainment Industry Foundation obtained the television and film rights for its Stand Up To Cancer initiative shortly after the book was published.

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies tells the comprehensive story of cancer, from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. At six hours, the film interweaves a sweeping historical narrative with intimate stories about contemporary patients, and an investigation into the latest scientific breakthroughs that may have brought us, at long last, within sight of lasting cures. Learn More: http://interactive.wxxi.org/cancer

The film comprises the following three episodes:

Magic Bullet airs Monday, March 30 at 9 p.m. The search for a “cure” for cancer is the greatest epic in the history of science. It spans centuries and continents, and is full of its share of heroes, villains and sudden vertiginous twists. This episode follows that centuries-long search, but centers on the story of Sidney Farber, who, defying conventional wisdom in the late 1940s, introduces the modern era of chemotherapy, eventually galvanizing a full-scale national “war on cancer.” Interwoven with Farber’s narrative is the contemporary story of little Olivia Blair, who at 14-months old is diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which spreads to her brain and spinal column. The film follows her as she and her parents struggle with the many hardships and decisions foisted upon a cancer patient. She remains in full remission a year after her diagnosis, but is still on her journey to finish her three-year treatment plan.

The Blind Men and the Elephant airs Tuesday, March 31 at 9 p.m. This episode picks up the story in the wake of the declaration of a “war on cancer” by Richard Nixon in 1971. Flush with optimism and awash with federal dollars, the cancer field plunges forward in search of a cure. In the lab, rapid progress is made in understanding the essential nature of the cancer cell, leading to the revolutionary discovery of the genetic basis of cancer. But at the bedside, where patients are treated, few new therapies become available, and a sense of disillusionment takes hold, leading some patients and doctors to take desperate measures. It is not until the late 1990s that the advances in research begin to translate into more precise targeted therapies with the breakthrough drugs Gleevec and Herceptin. Following the history during these fraught decades, the film intertwines the contemporary story of Dr. Lori Wilson, a surgical oncologist who is diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in both breasts in 2013. Her emotional and physical struggles with the disease provide a bracing counterpoint to the historical narrative.

Finding an Achilles Heel airs Wednesday, April 1 at 9 p.m. This episode picks up the story at another moment of buoyant optimism in the cancer world: Scientists believe they have cracked the essential mystery of the malignant cell and the first targeted therapies have been developed, with the promise of many more to follow. But very quickly cancer reveals new layers of complexity and a formidable array of unforeseen defenses. In the disappointment that follows, many call for a new focus on prevention and early detection as the most promising fronts in the war on cancer. But other scientists are undeterred, and by the second decade of the 2000s their work pays off. The bewildering complexity of the cancer cell, so recently considered unassailable, yields to a more ordered picture, revealing new vulnerabilities and avenues of attack. Perhaps most exciting of all is the prospect of harnessing the human immune system to defeat cancer. This episode includes patients Doug Rogers, a 60-year-old NASCAR mechanic with melanoma, and Emily Whitehead, a six-year-old child afflicted with leukemia. Each is a pioneer in new immunotherapy treatments, which the documentary follows as their stories unfold. Both see their advanced cancers recede and are able to resume normal lives.

Ken Burns Presents Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies A Film by Barak Goodman is made possible by project supporters Genentech, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Siemens, David H. Koch, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Kovler Fund, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.

The Rochester chapter of the American Cancer Society and B. Thomas Golisano Hope Lodge is WXXI's partner in the local presentation of this docu-series. 

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