I almost bought Christopher Hitchens, Mortality, today but decided to take a pass. I am a huge fan of Hitchens, his wit, his thoughtful analysis of events even when I didn’t much care for his conclusions, his rational stand on religion and his approach to atheism in general. In Mortality he talks about facing his own imminent death from esophageal cancer, a battle that recently took his life.
As I fingered this short book, read a bit of the introduction finding it as intriguing as anything I ever read from his active mind, I decided to put the book down and walk away mainly because I didn’t think it was time for me to be reading about this grim subject. After all, my cancer is still diagnosed as a Stage P1C with a very bright prognosis. There is plenty of time to think about my own mortality if and when I am facing it. Besides, the book is out in hardcover and I thought I could wait for the paperback version (or perhaps the Nook version) before I plunk down some hard to part with money.
Speaking of printed material, my wife ran into a representative from the American Cancer Society while I was having my scans. A package arrived yesterday from the American Cancer Society that has any number of pamphlets, most written so that a third grader might be able to glean some information from them. They are written in terse language and overgeneralize. A glossary was included in one that had terms like cancer, tumor and chemotherapy among others. I was reminded of a paper one of my 8th grade students once wrote, an autobiography in fact. This student had several surgeries to remove benign tumors from the brain stem. At the back of the paper was a medical glossary containing terms like surgery, tumor and brain among others just in case I wasn’t aware. While my student’s glossary was simply perfect, the assumption of the American Cancer Society brochure was that most people are simply too stupid to make heads or tails of their illness. The language panders to the least common denominator and, quite frankly, I found it insulting.
In another of the many brochures in that package was a piece that spoke about just how much should be revealed to the patient, how much should you tell your loved one. Screw that. I spent too many years in school, earned a doctorate in language and literacy, did significant educational research, was published in scholarly journals and even co-authored a book; I’ll be damned if I’ll be pandered to. No, I want to know. I understand the statistics, laws of probability and the like. While medicine is not my field, I can read the relevant research and come to meaningful conclusions myself. I expect to be kept fully informed regarding the progress (or lack thereof) of my cancer. All I have to fall back on is knowledge. Like Hitch, I have no religious faith to fall back on, I am an atheist because there is no evidence that there is a god out there and so I depend on knowledge in this very moment, in the present because only knowledge provides me with the tools to fight this disease.
So, I didn’t buy the book, I did get rather angry reading the American Cancer Society pamphlets and so I decided to rant just a bit.