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Hitchens on cancer

Christopher Hitchens on traveling from the "country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady":

The new land is quite welcoming in its way. Everybody smiles encouragingly and there appears to be absolutely no racism. A generally egalitarian spirit prevails, and those who run the place have obviously got where they are on merit and hard work. As against that, the humor is a touch feeble and repetitive, there seems to be almost no talk of sex, and the cuisine is the worst of any destination I have ever visited.


The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason.

Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read -- if not indeed write -- the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

Read the whole thing.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 4, 2010; 10:51 AM ET
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Hitchens inspires such mixed emotions. I'm not old enough to have known him as a socialist firebrand. I really only became aware of him as a proponent of Bush's wars, and as such, I considered him a villain. An especially dangerous villain because his writing was just so good.

More recently, I've found myself being drawn toward the so called "new atheist" movement and have come to realize what a powerful voice he is within that context.

Above all else, he is a extraordinary writer, and the essays he's written since his diagnosis are prime examples. As someone who once dreamed of calling myself a professional writer, he has my admiration, if not always my respect.

Posted by: jleaux | August 4, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

He says he has found brilliant and selfless doctors and technicians all ready to help him. How can that be? I thought our system was "broken". We were told everyone agreed the US medical system is "broken." ??

Posted by: truck1 | August 4, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Good lord "truck1". Is anything safe from the Stalinist urge to politicize every interaction? Of all the things I miss from the America I grew up in, that's one of the biggest.

Posted by: zimbar | August 4, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

And since you brought it up, Hitchens is part of the elite class for whom the US medical system works quite well. For those without a lot of money or the ability to shine a bright light when they are treated badly, the picture can be quite different.

Posted by: zimbar | August 4, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I agree he is a great writer and I too also have respect for his work.

Posted by: DavidRimbach | August 5, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I have only discovered Mr. Hitchens since he began writing about his cancer diagnosis and treatment. As someone who is also traveling the cancer and chemotherapy road (albeit with a much more positive prognosis), I find his work very interesting.

As far as his being encouraged by an "astonishing number of prayer groups" who are praying for him, I have often said there aren't any atheists in the chemo treatment room :)

I am compelled to comment on zimbar's observation on the state of US medical care. I am neither elite, wealthy, nor able to "shine a bright light" if treated badly. However, I have gotten truly excellent care from doctors, nurses, and technicians who are dedicated and selfless. Well, maybe I am elite...I earned this medical care through the 20plus years in the military. My treatment is 100% through the military's medical treatment system--one might even call it "socialized medicine."

I look forward to reading many more of Mr. Hitchen's essays.

Posted by: SingleMom2 | August 5, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

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