Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hitchens on Cancer

Author and provocateur Christopher Hitchens is a better writer than I am. That became clear as I read this article from Vanity Fair describing his diagnosis and early treatment for metastatic cancer. It is touching, witty, evocative, nearly free of self-pity and, from what I've seen of similar circumstances, honest and accurate. I liked this passage, describing the emergency medical team responding to the crisis that revealed his cancer:

I had the time to wonder why they needed so many boots and helmets and so much heavy backup equipment, but now that I view the scene in retrospect I see it as a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.

I wish I'd thought of that metaphor for Mom's Cancer. Very visual. It would've been good to draw.

Hitchens notices some of the same things I did during my mother's experience: why all the war metaphors, why is cancer always a "battle," yet what better language exists to express what's happening? What's this sudden intimacy, where strangers feel entitled to lay their hands all over you without an introduction or explanation? He also writes about feelings or experiences that could only be described by the afflicted, which I'm always quick to say I wasn't.

Hitchens is a polarizing personality. Some people passionately hate him for his politics and others for his outspoken atheism. Some cheered when he announced his cancer diagnosis. I appreciate his talents and public persona both because and in spite of the positions he argues. I just like the fact that he argues--passionately, wittily, and well. I also like good writing on any topic wherever I find it. I think his Vanity Fair piece, on a topic I've covered as well, is very good.


Jim O'Kane said...

Brian, you told your Mom's story in your own language. Comparing your storytelling with Hitchens is apples and oranges - - neither method is better than the other method.

And you *did* draw the oppression of the hardware - - I'm 3000 miles from Captain Girlfriend's copy, but I remember quite vividly that Castle Frankenstein image of Mom strapped into a gurney with "levels of terror may vary" as a footnote. Trust me: you've communicated the idea in spades.

Keep doing what you're doing, and if Hitch keeps doing what he's doing, we'll all have a better understanding of the human condition.

ronnie said...

When I went deaf, someone (I can't remember who) sent me a quote about how we are all only temporary residents in the Land of the Well and in the blink of an eye we could find ourselves thrust into That Other Land.

It's an apt metaphor and one I never forgot. I think of it often - especially when I read some anonymous internet commenter bitch about accommodations for the disabled...