Hitchens and cancer

I always find cases of cancer to be quite sad – hence my often visceral reactions to those who undermine its treatment – and Christopher Hitchen’s case is no different. Fortunately, he still cares about how he can impact the world; it matters. His writing since learning of his disease has been nothing but superb, and while a bit of an emotional take-down, to say the utter least, he brings his audience face-to-face with reality – just like we ought to expect from an outspoken atheist.

So I get straight to the point and say what the odds are. The swiftest way of doing this is to note that the thing about Stage Four is that there is no such thing as Stage Five. Quite rightly, some people take me up on it. I recently had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to attend my niece’s wedding, in my old hometown and former university in Oxford. This depressed me for more than one reason, and an especially close friend inquired, “Is it that you’re afraid you’ll never see England again?” As it happens he was exactly right to ask, and it had been precisely that which had been bothering me, but I was unreasonably shocked by his bluntness. I’ll do the facing of hard facts, thanks. Don’t you be doing it, too. And yet I had absolutely invited the question. Telling someone else, with deliberate realism, that once I’d had a few more scans and treatments I might be told by the doctors that things from now on could be mainly a matter of “management,” I again had the wind knocked out of me when she said, “Yes, I suppose a time comes when you have to consider letting go.” How true, and how crisp a summary of what I had just said myself. But again there was the unreasonable urge to have a kind of monopoly on, or a sort of veto over, what was actually sayable. Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic.

One Response

  1. I have been following his writings for several months, including reading his recently released book. Most of his writings are, as you stated, superb. I read something last week that made me simultaneously sad and hopeful for his situation.

    PS: I read Hitch-22: A Memoir, his latest book which I did not care for that much (3.5 out of 5 rating). It went to print just as he found out about the esophageal cancer.

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