Archive: Feb 2015

I am way, way past my expiration date. That news has not always been meet with well wishes. I received this malicious and hateful letter last spring:

“Dear Monte . . .

I will be blunt and get right to the point. I have heard from several members of the Metro State community that there is a widespread belief that you have faked your illness for these many years. When I was told this by one person she said you had done it for all of the awards and recognition that you got because people thought you were going to die soon. When I asked another person about it, they said that everyone at Metro knew your illness was a lie for a long time. . . .

I am very sorry to tell you of such a thing, and to have to be anonymous about it. I hope you will understand that there are sometimes important reasons for this. And even though I know this news may hurt deeply, I felt you had a right to know about this.


A Friend”

After five years, I too sometimes forget that I was once near death. Yesterday I re-read a newspaper column that I had written about my illness in 2010. Here is a excerpt:

“Autumn and the Dying of the Light”

“T.S. Eliot thought that April was the cruelest month. I disagree. For me, spring is a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. I would argue that autumn is the most cold-hearted time of year.

Last fall I was afflicted with a mysterious neuropathy that baffled my neurologist. A couple of months later I had hip replacement surgery and a fortuitous x-ray revealed tumors on my lungs. They diagnosed me with stage 3 granular pulmonary lymphoma, a cancer so rare that there are only 500 to 600 cases in the medical literature. It turns out that neuropathy is a symptom of the disease. Who knew?

The prognosis is poor. The median survival from diagnosis is 14 months. More than [90] percent of patients die within five years. I completed chemotherapy in July and the cancer was in remission. However, within a month troubling symptoms appeared. I was increasingly short of breath, gasping after 15-20 paces.  Pulmonary embolisms formed. Most days I took two naps. I had no energy; the smallest tasks were beyond me. Walking became a precarious adventure.

Heart function is one potential victim of chemotherapy. Mine has declined to 20-30 percent. The neuropathy has also worsened. My legs are numb from the knees down and I have minimal feeling in my feet. The outlook is grim. For me, autumn is akin to what Dylan Thomas called ‘the dying of the light’.

. . . The cancer is back. It has re-appeared in my lungs and spread to my liver. I feel no urge to ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ Nevertheless, I am not yet ready for a calm acceptance of the coming darkness. I will rejuvenate soon, in spirit if not body. I look forward to opening my cabin in the spring and watching the Yellow River flow, where one day my ashes will be scattered.”

Here is something I wrote for Minnesota Public Radio in 2011, and it’s still true today:

“I have been in remission for 10 months. While I appreciate this hiatus, I am also somewhat ambivalent. Remission from terminal cancer is, by definition, a temporary reprieve. I had made my peace with death, when suddenly I was expelled from the land of the dying. It is not easy to return to the land of the living and, once again, play an active role in the human comedy . . . But perhaps that is the point: None of us have anything more than a temporary reprieve from our terminal condition.”

Carpe diem . . . 


While I had only fleeting encounters with him, David Carr’s death hit me particularly hard. Perhaps it was due to the eerie similarities of our life trajectories: Early success pissed away because of personal demons; episodes as violent thugs; alcohol and drug additions; long struggles for redemption; ravaged by cancer; and most of all, pursuing truth regardless of consequences.

A bouquet for David Carr . .

Tom Waits on Writing

The story and the letter.