Fall 2018 - FASS 101W D007

STT - FASSFirst Special Topics Seminar (3)

Cancer Cultures: The Social Lives of a Disease

Class Number: 9755

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 4 – Dec 3, 2018: Tue, Thu, 2:30–4:20 p.m.



Students choose one of 10 FASSFirst Special Topics seminars open only to first-year FASS students by invitation from the Dean’s Office. Top ranked professors from across the Faculty work with students to discover the surprising, profound and interdisciplinary reach of the arts and social sciences. Students will learn to draw connections between values, ideas and evidence while developing core academic skills, from reading to research, writing and dialogue. Students with credit for FASS 101 may not take this course for further credit. Writing.


Cancer is everywhere. Whether we’re reading about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy in a celebrity gossip magazine or learning about chemotherapy’s origins as a weapon of war in a TED Talk, stories about cancer crop up in all kinds of unexpected places. While 1 in 2 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, many of us learn much about the disease in our daily lives through non-medical sources. We walk and run for the cure, buy pink ribbon products for the cause, cry in films like The Fault in Our Stars, laugh through comics like Cancer Vixen, anxiously await 23andMe DNA test results, or grimace at the warning labels on cigarette packs. This course will explore the diverse meanings of cancer in local and global contexts through films, comics, and memoirs, as well as in social and historical studies of medicine, science, and technology. In all of these examples, we will ask not only what cancer can tell us about our culture, but also what culture can tell us about medical approaches to cancer research and treatment.


  • Attendance 10%
  • In-class journal assignments – 30% (10 entries @ 3 points each) 30%
  • Analysis essay – 30% (15% final draft, 10% revised draft, 5% peer feedback) 30%
  • Research essay – 30% (15% final draft, 10% revised draft, 5% peer feedback) 30%



Cancer Vixen: A True Story (2009), Marisa Acocella Marchetto

Lissa: A Story of Friendship, Medical Promise, and Revolution (2017), Sherine Hamdy and Coleman Nye

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2011), Rebecca Skloot

All other readings and materials will be made available on canvas.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html