PHONE: 720.934.5264

Click here to edit subtitle

Midwest Book Review

Midwest Book Review – Health/Medicine Shelf


To Be of Use
Edward Arenson, MD, CWSP
Xlibris Corporation
1663 South Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781796099072, $40.99, PB, 182pp


Synopsis: The year was 1971. Childhood leukemia, the most feared disease in the era of antibiotics, was the most common cancer of childhood and 100% fatal. These were especially trying times for doctors like Edward Arenson who had chosen the field of pediatric oncology.

In the absence of effective treatment, doctors confronted with childhood leukemia had little to offer but their good intentions. On the other hand, things couldn't get much worse, so they were certain that they must get better. Little did they know, however, that they were on the cusp of a breakthrough.

It has been observed that remissions achieved with combinations of chemotherapy drugs often end with the appearance of leukemic cells in the nervous system. Perhaps the nervous system is a "sanctuary site" where drugs cannot reach leukemic cells. To address this problem, radiation is given to the brain. Within a few years it was noticed that many children are still in remission longer than expected. Ultimately, the medical community were willing to call them "cured".

In the pages of "To Be of Use: Five Decades as a Cancer Doctor Including the Story of the Conquest of Childhood Leukemia", Dr. Arenson relates this and numerous other major developments in cancer treatment as experienced by him. He also provides his personal perspective on those people and events which moved the field forward and others that didn't.

In "To Be of Use" the current status is of childhood leukemia is critically and sometimes humorously reviewed.

Critique: Providing a unique historical perspective based upon personal and professional experience, "To Be of Use: Five Decades as a Cancer Doctor Including the Story of the Conquest of Childhood Leukemia" is unreservedly recommended for community, college, university, and medical school Health/Medicine collections in general, and Child Leukemia supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular. It should be noted for medical students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "To Be of Use: Five Decades as a Cancer Doctor Including the Story of the Conquest of Childhood Leukemia" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Now retired at the age of 75, Edward Arenson during his third year of medical school, decided to pursue a career in pediatric blood and cancer the training for which began at Children's Hospital in Denver and was completed, after two years in the Army Medical Corp, at UCLA. At UCLA, Dr. Arenson focused on cancer and bone marrow transplantation before moving to Albany Medical College as Section Head of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. There he developed an interest in brain cancer before returning to Denver to focus on "neuro-oncology" at the Children's Hospital. Dr. Arenson became interested in the problems of cancer survivors and the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat the late effects of radiation therapy.

Editorial Reviews


An inspiring work which transcends the horrors of deadly disease and explores the heroism of humanity, To Be of Use: Five Decades as a Cancer doctor including the story of the conquest of Childhood Leukemia, offers a sobering and intimate look at Dr. Edward Arenson’s incredible and accomplished fifty-year journey as a Cancer, blood doctor and much more. Within this narrative, he offers his unique perspective on major developments of cancer treatment, the people, the successes as well as the not so successful work done within the field.

Currently, retired and enjoying his golden years, Dr. Arenson looks back at his journey, reflecting on a life dedicated to “being of use” by serving and healing others via an esteemed career in medicine. Within this accounting, Dr. Arenson relates his fascinating experiences as a doctor skilled in multiple disciplines of the medical profession, including cancer, brain tumors, hyperbaric oxygen medicine and wound care specialist of which he shares his gleaned expert perspectives in a learned tone that edifies, foments courage as well as informs.

Starting out with an inspiring quote from Anne Frank included in the preface, “Be kind and be courageous”, author Arenson sets the tone for the remainder of the book as it is filled with acts of courage and kindness that touch the heart. Moving in chronological order each chapter explores the developments within his life that led him on his path in practicing medicine. Initially, he explores his early years, being born in the 1940s, as a sickly child, facing medical challenges. When as an infant he was struck with pneumonia and whooping cough, leading to early experiences with hospitals, doctors, and medicines. He also recounts that it may have been his exposure early on in life with the medical profession that led him to a career in medicine.

Continuing on, Dr. Arenson sustains his engaging memorialization, by moving onto his scholarly academic journey, his time in the military medical corps, anecdotes of his personal experiences with seeking cures for childhood cancers, particularly Leukemia, researching and cooperating in circumstances which led to saving thousands of lives and prevented hardships to sick children and their families. Additionally, he explores his move from pediatric oncology to move into adult neuro-oncology, as well as mentioning those doctors with particular expertise in their respective fields whose accomplishments and expertise referring to them as Mensch which is the Yiddish term for a person of integrity and honor.

Altogether, I enjoyed reading To Be of Use: Five Decades as a Cancer Doctor, Including the Story of the Conquest of Childhood Leukemia it was not only an intriguing memoir of a phenomenal life but is an intensely detailed work, often offering in-depth medical detailing of the disease and treatments. Moreover, the author writes in a heartfelt, lucid, and authoritative voice wielding wholly intelligent insights and pragmatic life lessons. The inclusion of photos of people encountered in his life is a plus, because it allows for further engagement within the story and with the author, as it offers faces to go along with the many names of those influential on one level or another in his life. Another fascinating aspect of Dr. Arenson’s life story is that he is an avid birder, musician, and artist as well.

Overall, this was a completely intriguing chronicle written by a multi-faceted man who dedicated his life to saving the lives of others, and If you are intrigued by medical reads, this one will satisfy.
—Pacific Book Review

"I am more an artist than scientist, but was able to practice medicine as though it were a blank canvas full of colors, lines, textures, made up by real people with real problems."

This extraordinary memoir details the life of an oncologist over nearly fifty years. Beginning with his undergraduate studies in English and art history, the author describes his first calling to pediatrics with a 1973 fellowship in hematology-oncology at Children's Hospital in Denver. Childhood leukemia was the most common pediatric cancer at the time and was always fatal. Arenson then served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Augusta, Georgia, which proved to be a culture shock for the self-described Yankee Jew.

From 1976-1982, Arenson continued training as a post-doctoral fellow at UCLA and then headed back to New York's Albany Medical College (1982-88) as Head of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. In 1996, the author transitioned into adult neuro-oncology, with a burgeoning interest in brain tumors. He initiated the Center for Brain and Spinal Tumors and a multidisciplinary annual conference, which has formulated care plans for approximately 6,000 patients. Most recently, Arenson has specialized in hyperbaric oxygen medicinal therapy.

Making his already incredible medical memoir further appealing, Arenson includes several professionals along his journey. He pays special tribute to them as being "mensches"—people of integrity and honor. Among these is C. Everett Koop, who was seminal in changing the paradigm for cancer treatment from palliation (focused on symptom control) to intent to cure. Arenson's decision to discuss how his "Jewishness" influenced his medical career proves enlightening. The author additionally reflects on his interest in birding, which began in 1973, alongside that first fellowship in pediatric cancer. "You can understand how a person like me," writes Arenson, "dealing daily with suffering and death, might develop a passion for birds as therapeutic diversion." Birding, he writes, affirms life and the harmony of nature through the joy of "observing creatures which can overcome gravity in flight, the antithesis of what I faced the rest of the time."
—The US Review of Books

Amazon   Top reviews from the United States  

Reviewed in the United States on October 10, 2020
Verified Purchase
Dr. Edward Arenson's recent publication is a profoundly moving testament to courage, perseverance and the human spirit. This beautifully designed and illustrated volume records countless episodes of humanity and medical valor. Dr. Arenson confronts what he calls "the heterogeneity of the patients and their diseases" (p.138). He relates numerous examples of "those life-affirming events that keep me going by proving that something positive can come from the worst of tragedies, that all the losses I have witnessed have at least that possibility (p. 148).

Although my own academic research produced a book that argues for the extensive use of biological data in the social sciences and I have some background in the history of science, it is clear that a comprehensive and equitable review of Dr. Arenson's expert medical arguments requires additional expert medical knowledge which I do not possess. From a medical outsider's perspective, however, it seems clear that Dr. Arenson's book advances a number of important medical treatments and designs which deserve--indeed demand--widespread medical readership. One very much hopes that occurs. I feel personally grateful to this gifted author because I still carry a vivid and stark memory of my best friend in second grade dying of childhood leukemia shortly before Christmas that year. Dr. Arenson's inspiring work has kept numerous similar occurrences from happening.
Reviewed in the United States on December 11, 2020
Verified Purchase
I have completed reading "To Be of Use". I’m not saying finished because I’m going to go back and review much of it. This book offers a real insiders’ perspective of medicine’s challenges and pitfalls.

I struggled with the medical terms but at the same time it helped me develop an appreciation for the intricate complexities and risks of the field that Dr. Arenson pioneered in: Pediatric Hematology-Oncology with children then onto brain tumor “neuro-oncology. Dr. Arenson is a pioneer in developing methods to deal with the physical and emotional aspects of the diseases dealing with children later focusing on adult treatments of brain tumors.

I am thoroughly awed and inspired by Dr. Arenson’s relentless courage and commitment to humanity. His risk taking in that unknown world of grief and hopelessness is remarkable. He is truly a “useful’ person, even when judged by his own demanding standards.

I'm so impressed by his journey both as a human dealing with his own personal challenges while engaging in the extraordinary obstacles of the daunting field that he helped to develop.

“To Be of Use” should be included in medical curriculum to augment the technical medical challenges, to expose interns to the humanistic aspects of their field. The humanistic factors are key components that are often lacking in “bedside” manners of doctors pressured by insurance, lawyers and the internal politics of hospitals and the medical profession.

Dr. Arenson’s Compassion, Concern, Courage, and risk taking are shining lights in the field. This book will enrich the reader’s understanding of the complexities of this mysterious frontier.
Reviewed in the United States on September 29, 2020
Verified Purchase
Follow this fearless and brilliant physician as he makes his mark among distinguished cancer researchers and oncology legends. "To Be of Use" is to me, personally, such a modest understatement to the major impacts, contributions and collaborations Dr. Arenson describes in this book. in 1988 my 3 year old daughter, Kimberly Beesley, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a notoriously fatal childhood cancer. We were told "all we can do is make her comfortable." And then Dr. Arenson, in his running shoes, entered our room in Denver's Children's Hospital. He took charge of Kim with a fearless intensity. Having previous connections at UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Arenson administered a successful combination of chemotherapies, and sent Kim to his colleague Dr. Stephen Feig at UCLA, where she survived an autologous (self-donor) bone marrow transplant. Kim was one of the very first children to survive the experimental bone marrow transplant which could cure Neuroblastoma. I stayed with Kim for 7 weeks in Isolation. The majority of children on her ward did not make it through the then, very harsh and rigorous treatment of chemotherapy and total body radiation. Though very difficult, Kim was a fighter like her doctor. She survived to become a very talented artist and graduate of The University of Denver, as proudly pictured with Dr. Arenson in this book at her graduation. Kim is alive today at 36 and very happily married, thanks to the decisive action and yes, bravery, on the part of Dr. Arenson and Dr. Feig. We, as so many other of his patients and their families, will be enthralled to read "the other side of the story" beyond their own extraordinary journey with this great physician.
Reviewed in the United States on December 19, 2020
"To Be Of Use" is Dr. Edward Arenson's elegiac journey from high school to retirement in Nova Scotia, with a very intimate view of his life in medicine spanning fifty years. The conquest of children's leukemia a milestone in modern medicine is described by an insider as pediatric and adult oncology evolved from palliation to cure. The challenges of academic medicine and private practice medicine are shared from front line experience including personal views of corporate medicine and the problems of the competitive medical marketplace. He diligently writes of the necessity for humanity in medicine as it vanishes with today's managed care. There is an overlying sadness to the book with its emphasis on treatment failures, complications, and death, off set by his courage to see another day. This unusually personal memoir credits those who influenced him along the way and extends his thanks to the "mensches". It concludes with the Arenson's dash to Canada to escape the COVID 19 pandemic, described with humor, the threat we all are facing as this is written.