Last May, my brother-in-law, Paul, who has a deep gentleness and a keen sense of humor, found out that he had incurable lung cancer. Out of nowhere, he was facing death. He was 36 and had always been healthy. Our family was floored.
This week, he wrote a beautiful essay for the New York Times about what the experience has been like. At first, he thought he had only a few months, but now, because of a new treatment, he may live longer. (Two years? Five years? Ten years? The doctors don’t know.) And that uncertainty is disorienting.
“The path forward would seem obvious,” he writes, “if only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d just spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d have a plan (write a book). Give me 10 years, I’d get back to treating diseases [as a neurosurgeon]. The pedestrian truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day? My oncologist would say only: ‘I can’t tell you a time. You’ve got to find what matters most to you.’ ”
We all know are going to die, and we don’t know when, but as Paul says, “now I know it acutely.”
Read his beautiful essay here, if you’d like. Thank you so much for sharing, Paul. We love you. xoxo
(Top illustration by Tucker Nichols for the New York Times)