David Servan-Schreiber died 13 months before I was diagnosed with cancer. He was 50 years old when he died from a brain tumor, the third time a tumor had appeared. His death seems so sad because he was there for me in the days after my treatment began. He pushed the sun back up above the horizon and helped me see the landscape around me.
It’s always sad when someone dies. I’m coming to know this in ways I didn’t before cancer. I used to think that the younger a person is, the sadder it is when they die. It’s not that easy any more for me.
Servan-Schreiber’s death broke my heart because his hope was paid back with a recurrence of cancer. I guess that’s what hope is, isn’t it? Hope is a risk. It’s a willingness to live and love and give even if those things don’t return to you in kind.
At the age of 31, Servan-Schreiber had the bad luck of diagnosing his own cancer while conducting research as a neuroscientist. A subject for his research project failed to show up, so he had the MRI scan himself. After surgery and treatment, the tumor recurred five years later. After another surgery, chemo and radiation, he showed no evidence of disease for about 15 years.
It’s what he did in between these events that changed my world. I encourage you to read his book Anticancer: A New Way of Life to get the details. He set out to try to cure his cancer. He found his answers in nutrition, exercise, and meditation.
I have no idea if any of his suggestions about these things prolonged his life or if they will prolong mine. I am not aware of any cancer research that supports his theories. I do know, by his own words, that these discoveries improved the life that he lived.
By the time that he died, he’d made peace with death. The New York Times quotes him as saying:
“Death is part of the life process; everyone goes through it,” he said in one of his last interviews. “It is very reassuring in itself.”
Servan-Schreiber didn’t have snake oil for sale. He made no promises. In fact, he made perfectly clear that chemotherapy, radiation and surgery were critical treatments for his cancer. But, he also committed himself, his whole self, to living better.
For him that meant eating better and working better, loving better and hoping, hoping, hoping. He says at the end of Anticancer that oncologists and other docs worry about giving false hope. But, he says, he’s more worried about promoting “false hopelessness.”
Servan-Schreiber’s book and philosophy of life were about empowerment. In the midst of treatment for cancer, let me tell you that his book was a syringe full of empowerment. There’s so much we can’t do and that we can’t know. But he taught me about what I can do and can know. I can trust myself. I can find some peace.
This post doesn’t do him justice at all. So, I’ll let his words speak instead.
“I am not invulnerable. But there is one thing I’m certain of. I will never regret living as I live today, because the health and the greater awareness that this personal transformation has brought into my life give it a much greater value.”
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