I love life! I do not want to depart it. But that is what is going to happen in a few short weeks. Much to my regret, I have been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Despite a year of treatment, nothing has staved off the end that was in sight from the beginning.
Not long ago, the political columnist I most deeply admire, Charles Krauthammer, faced a similar crisis. He lost his battle, but in the process provided me with a model for how to face death with dignity. While I did not then know I would follow in his footsteps, I hope I can live up to his example.
Nonetheless, there is a huge difference between Krauthammer and me. Even though he was a psychiatrist, he did not believe in introspection. Instead of analyzing his motives or sharing them with others, he preferred to keep the focus on the political subjects he scrutinized.
I am the opposite. Self-analysis has been at the core of my adult life. In order to extricate myself from the shackles of my childhood, I sought to understand how and why these were forged. As I explained in my autobiography, “Too Lazy to Chew: A Memoir of Discovery,” this was a lengthy adventure that led to many unexpected findings.
Along the way, I learned to communicate what I learned to others. For the most part, these were people close to me. This remains the case. Nonetheless, I have decided to convey what I am currently experiencing to a larger audience. Although this causes me some anxiety, I decided that it is unfair to leave my readers entirely in the dark.
First of all, as to what I am currently undergoing and why it is ineluctable. Pancreatic cancer has become such a scourge because while it is developing it produces no symptoms. As a consequence, it is usually discovered when it is too late to do much good.
That is what happened with me. The cancer announced itself by preventing me from eating. All of a sudden, nothing that I ate would stay down. This eventually motivated me to go to the hospital where a CAT scan revealed that there was a mass on my pancreas.
Several more months went by before it was confirmed that there was another cancer around my stomach. At this point, it became plain that an operation would leave me a cripple, while radiation would inflict such widespread damage that it was inadvisable.
The only alternative was chemotherapy. For a while, this provided relief by opening my duodenum to allow food down. This worked so well that it enabled my wife and I to take a Mediterranean cruise a couple of months ago.
But times change. All of a sudden, the cancer became more aggressive. No longer would the chemotherapy keep it at bay. It was now stopping up my digestive canal at several points. Food would simply not go down. Furthermore, all of the possible remedies would make things worse.
At the moment, I can neither eat nor drink. Arrangements are thus being made to infuse liquids in intravenously. This should prevent me from expiring from dehydration. As to solid foods, I am forced to go on an unwanted diet. My body will therefore have to cannibalize what is already available.
In short, I will die of starvation. This is not a pleasant prospect, but what cannot be changed cannot be changed. Along the way I have discovered that I do not fear death so much as hate it. Rather than terror, I have experienced stoicism. There is likewise a sense of unreality. Me, I will live forever.
I have also discovered how many people love me. When my father died, he was virtually friendless. With me, it has been very different. Friends and colleagues have rallied around me. I suspect that even some of my readers will regret my passing.
As importantly, when I completed my memoir, I realized that I had little to apologize for. Despite my many mistakes, I had never done anything for which I was seriously remorseful. Furthermore, I never gave up on my convictions or myself. Although I sometimes retreated, I was never crushed.
My most serious regret is over my unfinished business. As a sociologist, I believe I have made important discoveries. Over the last several months I tried to make sure that these are in print, but I have run out of time to promote them.
While I have loved the process of writing columns, these never allowed me the space to develop my ideas. Given that I believe my larger intellectual contributions shed light on our current political impasse and point the way to a solution, I consider this a shame. But that’s life, isn’t it?