Archive for November 10th, 2010

D.G. Myers on Hitchens, Pausch, and cancer: “Hope is a dicey thing”

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
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Been there

Cancer has been the odd topic of discussion here the last few days — one more thought from D.G. Myers over at the Commonplace Blog (hat tip to Dave Lull, patron saint of bloggers in the cold, cold state of Minnesota).  Myers, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer a few months ago, agrees with Christopher Hitchens on Randy Pausch‘s Last Lecture: “Pausch’s giddiness has nothing to do with real hope, nor with preparing oneself for death. If you recommend it, your friend will conclude—correctly, as it turns out—that you are not serious about what he is going through.”

“Even so, hope is a dicey thing. And as far as I can tell, no one else can raise your hopes for you. There is no standardized method for achieving it, no universally valid argument for its reality. …

"Nothing to do with real hope"

Don’t try to make hopeful sounds, then. What I found consoling was the consolation that was offered to my wife. It helped enormously to know that she and the children would not be left alone, even if I were to leave them. Similarly, I guess, it gave me steel to understand that I was important and dear to some people. Three or four of my friends were particularly good at this, dropping into my hospital room to say, ‘I read something today that reminded me of you,’ or, ‘I listened to something and wondered what your reaction would be.’ Only two people thought to send me books—no one sent me any movies—and even though the books they sent weren’t really to my liking, they meant a lot to me.

Then there were those who never even contacted me, including my own sister. Nothing quite makes you more aware of the nothingness that awaits you on the other side of Stage Four cancer. My advice: say anything, keep it light and trivial if need be—better lightness and triviality, in fact, than the awkward groping for profundity—but say something. If you say nothing, because you are afraid that you will not know what to say, then you are abandoning the cancer patient to his worst fears, and indulging your own self-centeredness and even solipsism at his expense.

Only one thing is worse than silence, he says: telling cancer patients of “alternative cures.”  Hitchens agrees, but during my own experience with the Valley of the Shadow, I collected all the stories I could.  Part of the research effort.  One of the things Bob Beyers taught me – you never know where the help might come from, or from what unlikely people.

Postscript on 11/11/10:  Myers posted his recommended reading list today, here.