In His Own Words: A 'My Cancer' Reader

Leroy Sievers works on his blog. i i

hide captionLeroy Sievers writes his blog at his suburban Washington, D.C., home.

Courtesy of Discovery
Leroy Sievers works on his blog.

Leroy Sievers writes his blog at his suburban Washington, D.C., home.

Courtesy of Discovery

Leroy Sievers called My Cancer the most meaningful project of his long and eventful career. It was a remarkable public performance of what is usually a most private drama.

In his writings, Sievers bore witness to the rituals and routines of the alternative reality he called "cancer world." His journalist's knack for observation and description enabled him to probe big questions of mortality and suffering in a tone of calm, forthright inquiry. Most of all, he helped thousands of readers name their fears and draw strength from a sense of shared community.

This sampling, drawn from the hundreds of blog posts Sievers wrote in the past three years, serves as an introduction to this unusual record of one man's journey.

'Lose More Slowly'
Feb. 15, 2006

I was reading an article in this month's Vanity Fair about film noir. They quote a couple of lines from the film Out of the Past from 1947. Jane Greer asks Robert Mitchum, "Is there any way to win?"

Mitchum's reply: "There's a way to lose more slowly."

Before, I probably would have thought that was just a cool, tough-guy line, cynical and world-weary. When I read it this time, I thought it perfectly summed up the way most of us approach cancer. MORE

A Difficult Line To Walk
May 11, 2006

My doctors are trying to poison me. Oh, they have the best intentions. They call the process chemotherapy. The idea is to poison the body enough to kill the cancer, but not quite kill the patient. Best I can tell, it's a difficult line to walk. ... I have to try to take my body just up to the point that it can't take anymore, and then hope I can step back from that chemical abyss.

I'm a gambler, always have been. But I have to admit, I never thought Russian roulette would be my game. MORE

'I Am Not My Disease'
July 12, 2006

Getting cancer turned out to be a good career move for me. That's a joke I've told a number of times, but it does have the ring of truth to it. ... In the end, I may very well be best remembered as a cancer victim. That's strange to me. I don't think I like it very much. The cancer has changed just about everything. My life, my career, my body. But aside from that, I am still, at the core, the same person I was before. Maybe a little wiser, but the same person.

And so I guess this is the time to say something that I sometimes feel like shouting out loud. I hope I speak for all of you out there who have this disease when I say, "I am not my disease." We, all of us, are much much more than that. MORE

Riding the Roller Coaster
Sept. 6, 2006

It's a lot like being trapped on a roller coaster. A really good one with lots of twists and turns and huge drops — the kind that make your stomach turn over. "It," in this case, is life with cancer. ...

And no one else, as much as they want to, as much as they may need to, no one else can really ride along with you. They can watch; they can be supportive. But when you're up there on top of the ride, looking down on that huge drop in front of you, you're the only one in the car. MORE

The Things We Knew We Should Be Doing All Along
Nov. 27, 2006

A doctor told me early on that cancer meant many people would want to talk about things I definitely didn't want to talk about. He was right. I have to talk about my body to strangers. I have to talk to my doctors about my greatest fears. I have to talk about my death. But it doesn't bother me anymore.

I don't worry as much about keeping up a facade, either. I have cried, more than I ever had before. I've been more open to friends and loved ones about how much they mean to me. Before I got sick, I would've been embarrassed to say some of those things out loud. ... Cancer has freed us to do the things we knew we should be doing all along. MORE

'There's A Child In There'
Jan. 3, 2007

I was sitting in the radiation waiting room yesterday morning. It was crowded. ... Everyone else there seemed to know one another; they had been getting the treatments for a while. I was the new guy, but was immediately welcomed into that instant community of cancer patients. Everyone there was older. At 51, I was one of the younger patients.

And then one of the men said, "There's a child in there." The big, lead door had opened and he could see into the treatment room. Immediately, everything changed. The room got sort of quiet; people even lowered their voices. This was something terrible. MORE

'Are You OK?' Isn't An Easy Question
July 26, 2007

The other day I told a lie. Actually, I did it twice. I was getting together with some friends and the young son of one of them came up to me and said, "My dad says you have a blog, and it's because you have cancer." I answered that he was right on both of those.

I was pretty impressed that he said that to me, he was clearly used to talking to grown-ups. But then he turned back into a kid.

"But you're all right now, right?" he asked. And without hesitation, I said "yes." What else was I going to say? ... There will be plenty of time for him to learn about life, to learn that it contains sorrow as well as joy, to learn that bad things do happen to people. All that lies ahead of him.

For that moment at least, he was pretty sure that all was right in the world. And those moments are precious in anyone's life. MORE

Haunted By A Phantom Future
Aug. 29, 2007

People who have lost a limb say that sometimes they can still feel it. They feel phantom pain from an arm or a leg that's no longer there. ... I have a form of phantom pain, too. I have a phantom future. ...The day before I was diagnosed almost two years ago, my future was wide open. ...A day later, all that changed. My future was cut off. ...

It's funny. I still think it's all out there. I think about jobs and career paths, things I want to do, things I have to get done. I plan ahead. And then, of course, I'm reminded of the reality of my life. ...When I find myself thinking two, or three, or even more years ahead, am I being silly? Feeling the phantom pain of a future that's no longer there? MORE

Being The One In Need
Nov. 2, 2007

There are times when I hope I am able to give support and counsel to those of you who need it.

There are other times, like now, when I am the one in need. ... I need help right now, serious help. And, without asking, I already feel the cushion of all of your good wishes ... and your strength.

It's an amazing feeling, unlike anything else in the world.

I feel that, and I feel fortunate. MORE

Speaking In Code
Jan. 28, 2008

She was very nice, as you'd expect. After all, she's a hospice nurse. Her job is to get people through one of the most difficult experiences there is.

This was really sort of a get-acquainted session. For everyone to meet and at least start that conversation. But then she said something that I don't think I'll ever forget.

"Hospice is code for six months." MORE

The Disease Has Exploded
June 9, 2008

We try to steel ourselves to be ready for bad news. We should be pretty good at it by now, because so much of the news in cancer world is bad. Still, when it comes, it can hit like a sledgehammer.

Last Friday was scan day for me. ... Basically the disease has exploded.

There are some things we can do. Some things we'll need to do. ... Overall, things don't look so good. But I've held off this disease for two-and-a-half years already.

I still have some fight left in me. MORE

Not Alone On This Road
June 11, 2008

Editor's note: This post was written by Laurie Singer, Leroy's wife.

No one has lost a battle here. If anything has happened in these past couple of years on this blog, it's that we've all learned how to face life head-on. Not death.
And Leroy's been our pied piper. I'm not sure he even knew where this trek would take him, but we've followed him because of his strength and courage and willingness to get off the beaten path and make a new one.
Most of us are not that brave. We need the Leroys in our lives to show us. ...
We live life here. We don't sit and wait for death.
There will be no battle lost. MORE

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: