This short book was written by an accomplished French physician during the terminal stages of brain cancer. He discusses his initial bout with brain cancer some 20 years earlier, the surprise relapse in June 2010, his initial reaction to the terminal prognosis, the factors he felt contributed to the relapse, and most of all how he dealt with his pending demise.
The author was a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and cofounder of the Center for Integrative Medicine before moving back to his native France. He was the author of Anticancer, a New Way of Life, an international best seller that was translated into 40 languages. He died on July 24, 2011.
"There are two types of denial," Servan-Schreiber writes. "The first is seen in patients who are so terrified by their illness that they would rather blind themselves to it, to the extent that they might not even seek treatment. This is an extremely dangerous attitude." Servan-Schreiber opted for the second type of denial, one in which there is always hope and every possible cure, including alternative medicine, is explored, even though the prognosis is bleak. At the same time, he surrounded himself with the emotional support of his family, including a wife and children, four brothers, and 20 cousins, pointing out that the more the dying person is surrounded by loved ones, the more he remains connected to life.
Servan-Schreiber admitted to his fears. Would he tremble with fear as he did 10 years earlier or would he face it with composure. What he feared most, he said, was dying in pain. "When you stop fighting illness, you still have one challenge left," he offers, "that of dying well - saying goodbye to the people to whom you need to say goodbye, forgiving those you need to forgive, and asking forgiveness of those who need to forgive you."
Servan-Schreiber had witnessed many of his patients die and most of them seemed to have had a "good death," one in which most of them saw death as a transition "from the life we know to something else that we cannot know." He had four or five patients who had near-death experiences, reporting on a light at the end of the tunnel, meeting deceased loved ones, and returning to this life with the feeling of peace and celestial joy. Although he had been a typical rational scientist and atheist, and was aware of the skeptical arguments relative to the spiritual implications of the NDE, Servan-Schreiber said that the stories offered him some hope of seeing loved ones again. "I can say that at the uncomfortable stage at which I find myself today, these accounts are more precious than ever," he writes. "I accept their inevitable mysterious or mystical dimension, though I can't find in it any argument in favor of one religious dogma over another."
Having read two other books within the last year or two by dying doctors - one a medical doctor and the other a Ph.D. type - who couldn't bring themselves to even mention the possibility of consciousness surviving death, I found this book to be a breath of fresh air. It was a quick read, but a very satisfying one.