Hitchens: I have esophageal cancer

He’s been canceling book-tour events for unknown reasons, but rumors were swirling that he’d recently been taken off a flight on a stretcher.

Mystery solved.

I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.

That’s all he says. He’d supposedly given up tobacco two years ago but was sneaking smokes as recently as last month. The two leading risk factors for esophageal cancer: Cigarettes and alcohol.

His prognosis, not in only terms of survival but in carrying on with speech and debate, is unknown thus far. But here’s a passage from the Merck handbook linked above:

Because esophageal cancer usually is not diagnosed until the disease has spread, the death rate is high. Fewer than 5% of people survive more than 5 years. Many die within a year of noticing the first symptoms. Because nearly all cases of esophageal cancer are fatal, the doctor’s main objective is to control symptoms, especially pain and the inability to swallow, which can be very frightening to the person and loved ones (see Death and Dying: Difficulty Swallowing).

I’ve never met him — this is as close as I’ve come — but between enjoying his work, supporting many of his positions (on foreign policy, at least), and of course feeling a little atheist kinship, it’s like I’ve known him for years. This is hard news to take.

Update (Ed): Obviously, I don’t have an atheist kinship with Hitchens, but I’ve long been an admirer of his fearless defense of Western civilization, his caustic and brilliant wit, and his immense talent as a writer — even when he writes something with which I disagree.  I hope he doesn’t mind that I will pray for his health, and strength for him and those who care about him.