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


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.

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

  1. Dave Lull Says:

    In response to a comment on his posting “Cancer etiquette,” D.G. Myers writes about “. . . what reading [he] found helpful in going through the experience of life-threatening cancer” in his posting “Cancer reading”:


  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks, Dave. I posted a postscript.

  3. Roseanne Sullivan Says:

    There is much we need to learn about how we must visit and talk to people who are sick and not use our own discomfort as an excuse for abandoning an ailing friend or relative because we want to “remember [him | her] the way [he | she\ was.” Who cares whether or not you want to deny reality and deprive someone who needs and possibly loves you of your presence? Your wants are not what matters here (I use the rhetorical you).

    As a probably unexpected side result of this article, I learned about Randy Pausch. So I whiled away over an hour watching part of his Last Lecture and the Diane Sawyer interview with him. In his “last lecture,” Pausch said something like Hitchens and Myers might have said, “If you know of any herbal or natural remedies, I don’t want to know about them.” On that same line, when I had the big C, I did something I have seldom have done in my rebellious life, I did exactly what the doctors told me to do. My daughter wanted me to look into alternative medicine, but when the doctor said go to chemo, I went, and when she said, go to radiation, I did that too. And I lived to tell the tale. My cancer reading: I read but didn’t get anything out of reading Lance Armstrong’s book about how he beat testicular cancer and went back to winning bicycle races (and incidentally how after his wife went through a long ordeal to conceive and bear two children, he left her). Okay, so I did get something out of it, a lasting dislike for Armstrong. I did get a laugh out of a book called “Having a No Hair Day,” but it didn’t apply to me, since I only lost hair below my ears from the radiation, and the rest of my hair covered that ….