April 6, 1984

Vital Signs: A Young Doctor's Struggle With Cancer

Author Affiliations

The Franklin Hospital Benton, III


by Fitzhugh Mullan, 203 pp, $12.50, New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc, 1983.

JAMA. 1984;251(13):1757. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340370081038

Vital Signs is the story of a healthy, active 32-year-old physician who is suddenly and disturbingly transformed into a patient with cancer. It is an autobiographical account of the author's discovery of a clinically silent tumor on his routine chest roentgenogram and the catastrophic events that follow, including a vivid description of his thoracotomy, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy. The book explores a young physician's physical, emotional, and mental struggle, from his diagnosis of cancer to his theoretical cure. The author, Fitzhugh Mullan, is former director of the National Health Service Corps and is now Chief Medical Officer, Office of Medical Applications of Research, National Institutes of Health.

This struggle takes many forms, including the ability to cope with possible tumor recurrence or death, side effects of various cancer treatment regimens, interactions with family and friends, and a return to normalcy. Perhaps the most important question the book poses is how