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Another excerpt from Today Cancer Tomorrow, The World

December 23, 2012

In January the book will be available..

Here’s another excerpt…

I tried to get a better handle on my chemo experience by reading a couple books about death and cancer: Randy Pausch The Last Lecture, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and Christopher Hitchens’s Mortality on esophageal cancer that took his life. Pausch, Didion, and Hitchens are erudite people. But emotion was lacking in all of their views for me. I’m not saying they weren’t loved, and didn’t love their life. I wish the two men were still alive and Joan never lost her husband, John Gregory Dunne. And if their works helps others, fine, Who am I? But their expression of their experience didn’t match mine or equal what I saw in the hearts of the doctors, nurses, caregivers and my fellow Chemosabis. The three writers imposed an intellectual template on cancer that shielded them. Pausch approached his cancer experience like a college course and wrote a master’s thesis. There are some touching moments in the book, but it seems appropriate Pausch specialized in teaching students how to create digital virtual realities by putting on goggles and creating computer programs. He did the same thing with his experience of the disease. There’s a hermetic campus tinge in the book. At one point, Pausch advises the best way to avoid some potential problems by always carrying $200 on you. He wasn’t living in the real world when he was living in the world. No wonder he loved teaching! Pausch’s approach avoided the real horror the way he ducked taking a real animation job at Disney by retreating to continue his childhood within the protective robed arms of academia. And Didion dismisses seeing a light when you’re dying by attributing the sensations to the biological breakdown of the body near death. And throughout Didion’s book there’s an undertone that she and husband’s career decisions lead them to missed truly tapping into a more meaningful, satisfying and creative life, which is kinda how I felt about Didion even before I read her work. I remember what my friend Jean Jackson said about Didion: “I looked her picture on the book. She looked dreary and depressing. I read the book, it was depressing. Then I met her at a party and she was depressing.” That’s enough for me. And Hitchens? First he archly dismisses chemo as a ‘transparent bag of poison,” which is technically true without its malignant dance partner, but seeing it as a two-edged serum seems a better way to go. He refers to cancer as a “malady.” Talk about sounding British! People in Jane Austen novels have maladies — probably because there was no rock music and they only had harp recitals. Cancer is a word that defines itself all too well. When faced with death, steroid-frontal-lobed Hitchens ran for clever, seeking cover in the trench-like folds of his brain stating “as often as I am encouraged to ‘battle’ my own tumor,I can’t shake the feeling that it is the cancer that is making war on me.” He’s a victim? Hitchens has already making a major concession to the disease. And his defeatist attitude gets worse. Hitchens described receiving  “chemo-poison” in a “venom sack” plugged into your arm that “swamps you with passivity and impotence” where you are “dissolving in powerlessness like a lump of sugar in water.” Powerless during chemo, no fucking way! You’re powerless if you don’t have access to chemo, radiation or any treatment. And “passivity?” I decided to take chemo. There was nothing “passive” about the act of getting up with a shaved head, wearing tubes, and marching off to treatment. Passivity is surrender. Passivity is refusing the treatment. I saw many courageous men, women, and children getting chemo. There was nothing passive about them! When you allow a nurse to access a port or stick a needle in your vein you’re involved. Can you also be an atheist if you don’t have faith in becoming redeemed by saving  yourself through the love of others? My diagnosis: I didn’t hear their screams above their cleverness.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tim Geiselman permalink
    January 4, 2013 6:32 pm

    Happy new year and looking forward to more posts in 2013. This was an interesting post for me as I’ve read all 3 authors and it was good to read your review. Here is mine: Randy Pausch – couldn’t get through his book. While I felt badly for him and his situation, the book (for me) had too much of a “inspirational” tone and I wasn’t looking for it. Many people got turned onto this, but I didn’t. Joan Didion’s book was a great read end to end. She approached or described the tragedy and its aftermath from a detached standpoint. Yes, the emotion was removed, but in an odd way this is what drew me in. She disected the event in a methodical way and pointed out the details that she pored over in her mind (e.g. the log at the doorman’s desk indicating when the EMT arrived and why). Odd details stay with us in the aftermath of these events. They are burned in our mind. I’m not sure why and how we choose these memories, but I’m intrigued by it. When I read your posts I’m drawn in by the details that strike you. Christopher Hitchens rarely disappoints. I haven’t read his full memoir on cancer, but I did read his excerpts in Vanity Fair. For me they were gems. In one installment he said something to the effect of “Friends ask me if I’m stuck in the anger of ‘Why me?’ But I answer that with ‘Why not me?'” His point was that we’re all vulnerable to cancer and each day many of us are diagnosed with it. We may be depressed that we’re tagged with cancer, but (sadly) it is not a rare occurance. I found that vantage point a very honest one.

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