Cognition & Reality

Monday, 6 December 2010

Terminal Entertainment

Filed under: Emotion — drtone @ 5:13 pm

I recently contacted an old friend, someone with whom I went to grad school and whom I liked a lot. At one of his weddings (he’s another serial marry-er) someone  thought we were brothers, although we look nothing alike and he’s nearly a foot taller than me. I had not seen him in years, and the last thing I heard from him was  through his former girlfriend, who told me that he had left the city they lived in and his university post, having fallen in love with a grad student who had two kids. This was strange, considering that he had never wanted kids, and it was disturbing because it was hard to understand why he had left his beautiful girlfriend and beautiful job.

Anyway, I found his name in a book I’ve mentioned here, The New Phrenology, in which his work is cited often. I remembered some discussions I had with him on the topic and many discussions that had nothing to do with the topic. In fact, we had a blast once upon a time. I subsequently looked him up on the web and found a video of a talk he gave. The talk was too technical for me, but he was the same charming fellow I had known years earlier, and I realized how much I missed him, so I sent him an email. A couple of weeks later, I received a long, long reply that included various details about his life.

There was a passage in his email about his current illness and treatments he was receiving, including a mention of his diagnosis: pancreatic cance . I already had experience with someone from that part of my life and pancreatic cancer. That person, Liz Bates, perhaps the single most important influence on my intellectual growth other than my mother, had died while I dithered about driving down to La Jolla to visit her. She died in a matter of months. In connection with her and her illness, I had googled pancreatic cancer and discovered that it’s among the worst, both painful and deadly.

I had replied to my friend’s email with a long email of my own. That email contained news of my current life and bitter complaints about the way my ex-wife exited our marriage. It mentioned my friend’s illness only in passing. It not until I was with my therapist later in that day, and mentioned to him that my friend “seems to have pancreatic cancer” that I realized what was afoot. I had been clueless for a few hours, and had almost entirely skipped over the seriousness of my friend’s condition, thus demonstrating the power of denial.

In reply to a second email from me, in which I expressed deep concern about his condition, and reported that it had dawned on me later how sick he is, he referred to his conditions as his “terminal entertainment.” He reported that his response to it is varied, that it hits him, and then he reacts well or maybe not so well. I still don’t want to look at it squarely. It’s just so weird.


1 Comment »

  1. Hello Tony,

    Sorry to hear the news about your good, longtime friend.

    Les, my husband, cared for his mother as she succumbed to devastating pancreatic cancer and died relatively quickly after being diagnosed (6 mos.)

    Surely this reality reminds us of the opportunities we have to savor and experience life, and if we’re very fortunate, we can enjoy more lifetime this lifetime!

    Comment by Joy — Tuesday, 7 December 2010 @ 9:42 am | Reply

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