Oliver Sacks On Learning He Has Terminal Cancer

Illustration for article titled Oliver Sacks On Learning He Has Terminal Cancer

Neurologist and science popularizer Oliver Sacks — author of such books as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — has written a poignant and touching op-ed in the The New York Times to reflect on the recent news that he's dying of cancer.


Sacks, who is now 81, learned a few weeks ago that he has multiple metastases in the liver. The cancer has now consumed one-third of his liver, and though its progression can be slowed, it cannot be halted.

In response, and like everything he has ever written, his farewell note in the NYT is brave, direct, and profoundly human.

"It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me," he says, "I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can."

Because he's now "face to face with dying," he's had a chance to reflect on his life, while planning for the little time he has left. He writes:

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at "NewsHour" every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

His final remarks are particularly touching, writing: "Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."

Read Sacks's entire piece here.

Related: Oliver Sacks talks hallucinations, dropping acid — and the time he was addicted to speed | What happened when Oliver Sacks started to hallucinate


Image: CBC.


I grew up reading his work and felt so damn smart because his wonderful writing was so accessible yet the topics so foreign.

Also, fuck cancer.