I am intrigued by Mortality for one main reason, which is this: Hitchens’s beliefs about his advanced cancer and its treatment were, for a man whose fame rested on his scepticism, uncharacteristically optimistic. I hesitate to use the word delusional, as he admitted that he would be very lucky to survive, but he clearly steadfastly hoped, right to the end, that his particular case of advanced cancer might lie on the sparsely populated right side of the bell-shaped curve of outcome statistics. He famously mocked religious folk for their faith in supernatural entities and survival of the soul after bodily death, yet the views expressed in Mortality are just as wishful and magical. “The oncology bargain [oncology is that branch of medicine which deals with the treatment of cancer],” writes Hitchens, “is that in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery.” Years? I must now confess to a professional interest. I am a gastroenterologist in a large acute hospital, and I have diagnosed many patients with oesophageal cancer. “Years” is a word not generally used when discussing prognosis in Stage Four oesophageal cancer, “months”, in my experience, being a more useful one.
more from Seamus O’Mahony at the Dublin Review of Books here.