The neurologist and author writes in the New York Times that he feels "intensely alive" in the face of death
Oliver Sacks, one of the leading public intellectuals of the last half-century, says terminal cancer of the liver has left him with only months to live.
Sacks, a neurologist and author of books like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, revealed his condition in an article about facing death that was published in the New York Times on Thursday.
“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me,” Sacks, 81, writes in the Times. “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”
He says he will shun politics and nightly news to focus instead on himself, his friends, and his work–an autobiography is set to come out in the spring, and he says he has “several” other books in the works. He writes:
This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.
I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
Born in the U.K., Sacks has spent most of his career in the United States, where his prolific writing has blended science and literature to best-selling success. Outside of work, he’s been nearly as active. A one-time weightlifting champion with a stint riding with Hell’s Angel’s—according to a 1995 profile in TIME—he says he still swims a mile a day.
The removal of a tumor in his eye left him blind in one eye nine years ago and led to his 2010 book ‘The Mind’s Eye’ that deals in part with his experience with cancer and his inability to recognize faces. But the tumor metastasized, and the author now says the cancer’s spread cannot be stopped.
“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,” he writes.
Read Oliver Sacks’s story in the New York Times.