I have bad news. I have stage 4 lung cancer

This post was written by marc on August 17, 2016
Posted Under: Letters to the Editor

I have some very bad news.

For the last 25 years I have been one of the nations most prolific letter to the editor writers. Unfortunately that might come to and end soon as I have been diagnosed stage 4 lung cancer. As someone who understand probabilities far too well I understand this is a fatal diagnosis and it’s just a matter of when. My life is now a casino and it’s mostly all about luck at this point.

Since 1991 I have written some 2500 letters to the editor, all 100% original, and I have mass distributed them to about 2000 newspapers each time. Back in the early days it was by fax. If you remember the old Sprint “Free Fridays” where long distance was free on Friday, I would write a letter every Thursday and queue it up. At the stroke of midnight 3 fax servers would come on line and fax 2000 papers and often every member of Congress weekly. In the late 1990s I switched to email.

I am usually well published because I understand that short is better, talking about current events, and laying out my points as clearly as possible and a flair for humor. This allowed my original opinions, right or wrong, to reach untold millions of people over the years. And I want to express gratitude to all of you who have published my work over the last 1/4 century.

It’s actually rather ironic that I of all people should be dying of lung cancer as someone who is a lifelong anti-smoking activist. I feel the cancer gods owe me a favor.

I suppose I’m now the new Christopher Hitchens – the dying Atheist. But I’m really not the same. Where Atheism is ultimately about nothing, Realism is about everything. And for the past 18 years I’ve been developing my Church of Reality and leave behind a reality based philosophy of life that is based on science. Trying to get it so logically tight that when computers become smarter than humans and have an existential crisis wondering “What is the meaning of artificial life?”, that I have an answer that it can reason is valid.

In that context I face my “final adventure” with the comfort of knowing that I have lived an extraordinary life and that I have accomplished more that most people do in 100 lifetimes. I have always looked at life as a story. Your story is everything you do from birth to death, and then your story is how you affected the world. Leonard Nimoy is gone, but Spock is still with us. At an early age I chose to “own my story” as I call it in my religion, to “live the life worth living”.

No one has a perfect life and as I look back there’s lots of things I could have done better. But surprisingly I feel that I have lived a life well lived and that is very comforting to me right now. And because of that I have a huge number of friends who care a lot about me, so much so that is is very humbling. And I’m dealing with making a lot of people very sad right now and that’s difficult to do. I’m not used to being on the receiving end of generosity. Even a little guilty that I might not have been as generous with them as they are with me.

For someone with a death sentence I’m doing OK so far. I have a paid for home in California, and still make a good income from home doing my little tech empire, web hosting and spam filtering. I’m not feeling any symptoms yet so if not for the diagnosis I would not know I was sick. So I’m writing this early in the process while I’m still in an inspirational state of mind. A very close friend of mine who is a hospice nurse, told me that people die the way they lived. So I’m hoping that’s true. (Although I’m probably going to be cranky and difficult as I get sick.)

I’m not afraid to be dead. I’m more afraid of the process of getting there. I had thought there was a chance that with new technology that I might be young enough to cheat death. That with the genetic work being done by Dr. David Sinclair and the advancements in computers that I when I die I would be “uploaded to the cloud where I would live forever.” (What does that remind you of?) But, if humanity stay on the right path, I might be the last generation to die. But seems I’m going to miss out on that one.

I however have a larger view of existence. We live in a universe where stars evolve into astronomers, and since we are all created by the universe what we do is what part of the universe is doing. We are the physical mechanism where self awareness and contemplation lives. “I think therefore I am.” However some 3.5 billion years ago something in the bottom of the ocean started dividing and formed life and we are all that organism still dividing and evolving. And although we are all individuals, in a greater sense we are all a single biological organism as well. But views are true, the only different is perspective and scale.

Much of what we know we know collectively. We are tightly integrated into a society more closely integrated than a hive of bees. The very words we use to think our own thoughts with are words invented by other people. And humanity explores the universe collectively. But since we are the universe, when we look back through the Hubble Telescope, the universe is looking at baby pictures of itself. As Carl Sagan says, we are the mechanism through which the universe contemplates it’s own existence.

Although I feel the impending loss of my own existence, in the greater sense I am more like a single cell in a greater organism who is created, lives for a time, and passes on. And although my story will end, my story will become part of the story of humanity, which is part of the story of life, and part of the story of the universe. And because of technology much more of who I am will survive as I upload what’s left of me to my digital afterlife. My hardware will return to dust, but some of my software will live on. And I’m hoping that I will achieve a meaningful level of immortality in that the values and wisdom I leave behind represent the essence of who I am (was) as a person. And that part is the part that has real value.

Still, this is all very difficult, I’m still have some denial of what’s happening to me. And I’m hoping that I die well. And the process of disassembling my personal existence is scary. Although what I write sounds very brave to read, there is a lot of fear inspiring it.

And although it sounds like I’m giving up, I am going to put up a fight. I’m going to MD Anderson which is the best cancer hospital in the nation. My life is a casino right now, but they are the casino with the best odds. If I get 2 years that would be a win. But I understand the probability spectrum way too well to not plan for a fatal outcome. I suppose I need to get around to writing a will.

I can ramble on forever, and forever isn’t as long as it used to be.

Feel free to distribute this or to publish this as well if you want to. I also do great interviews. Might be useful to other people facing their own mortality.

Marc Perkel

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