Best-selling author John Grisham has a side job.When the legal thriller writer is taking a break from stories of tort reform and multi-million dollar trials, or of small town justice gone awry and blackmailed jurors — or any of the other legal topics he’s covered in the roughly one book a year he’s written since 1988 — he thinks about high-intensity focused ultrasound.
Best-selling author John Grisham has a side job.
When the legal thriller writer is taking a break from stories of tort reform and multi-million dollar trials, or of small town justice gone awry and blackmailed jurors — or any of the other legal topics he’s covered in the roughly one book a year he’s written since 1988 — he thinks about high-intensity focused ultrasound.
Or rather, he’s busy raising money and awareness for the technology as part of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, where he sits on the board. He “still doesn’t understand the technology” behind focused ultrasound, he said in a recent TEDx Talk in Charlottesville, Va., but nevertheless advocates for it because he’s found “no other cause, issue, non-profit, or charity that can potentially save so many lives.”
High-frequency focused ultrasound, or HIFU, is sometimes used to treat uterine fibroids through non-invasive heating of damaged or diseased tissue. But the foundation — established by John Grisham’s neighbor, Neal Kassell, MD, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Virginia — advocates for the technology and its expansion to treat a variety of diseases, including several types of cancer and neurological diseases. Late last year, HIFU was cleared for use by the FDA to treat prostate cancer even though the agency had previously expressed skepticism.
Grisham’s latest effort to get more eyes on, and more money for, the foundation is The Tumor: A Non-Legal Thriller, a 67-page book that tells the story of a man with glioblastoma. It includes diagrams of the procedure and pictures of an actual glioblastoma, and it’s available for free as an Amazon Single, where it was sitting at #16 on the most popular free Kindle Single list at the time of writing.
The foundation did not hire Grisham to write the book, a public relations representative said in an email to MedPage Today. “It was John Grisham’s idea to write a book about focused ultrasound. He has been on our board for several years so he has seen the Foundation grow and the technology expand as new applications are being researched,” the email stated. “He got involved because he sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to help millions of people.”
The book tells the story of Paul, and it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Paul dies. He has glioblastoma, and he undergoes two difficult surgeries and then passes away at age 36, leaving behind a wife and three kids under the age of 8. But that’s just half the story.
In a not so subtle line, Grisham emphasizes in boldface: “The total cost of his treatment and care is approximately $300,000.” Grisham then channels his inner Philip K. Dick to create an alternative universe, one in which Paul was born 10 years later and gets glioblastoma in 2025, when focused ultrasound therapy is available. This time, there are no difficult surgeries. He undergoes two procedures, his life is extended, and he enjoys life with his kids.
“This is the most important book I’ve ever written,” said Grisham, adding — as if writing a research paper — that “Much more research is needed.” The story is interspersed with images of real people who have died from glioblastoma, like Ted Kennedy and Lee Atwater, and of illustrations of the procedures.
Using a star writer to bring attention to a certain subset of research is only one of the ways in which researchers have sought funding outside of the usual channels. A crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo last year, for example, raised $60,000 for research on a cure for viral infections.
And, if the promotional blurbs on the book’s Amazon page are anything to go by, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s latest effort to raise money could be successful.
“The Tumor gives readers a better picture for what the future of medicine can look like with focused ultrasound,” wrote U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
“By increasing awareness, The Tumor can help make focused ultrasound available sooner to countless patients worldwide with a host of medical conditions,” wrote the CEO of Tupperware Brands, Rick Goings.
And even Ed Miller, MD, the former CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, weighed in. “Grisham’s book is changing the game,” he wrote. “He paints a great picture of how sound waves may shape the future of medicine.”