One of my few living heroes has esophageal cancer and it doesn’t look good. After a month of public silence following his announcement that he was beginning chemotherapy, save for a three-hour appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, Christopher Hitchens has reemerged. He’s about fifteen pounds lighter and missing most of his hair, and seems determined to face down his fate, whatever it is, with his eyes wide open.
In an extraordinary piece for the September issue of Vanity Fair, “Topic of Cancer,” Hitchens writes frankly of his illness and the sudden nearness of his own death:
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 Hitchens’s “Topic of Cancer” in its entirety here.
Hitchens also appeared last night with Anderson Cooper on CNN, sitting at home for a one-on-one interview in which they discussed his disease, his prognosis, and why we should doubt any and all rumors of a deathbed conversion, should they be forthcoming.
Watch Hitchens on Anderson Cooper 360 below: Update (8/7/2010): An extended version of this interview can now be viewed here.