Author Oliver Sacks Discusses Terminal Cancer Diagnosis

Posted on February 19, 2015

On the Move by Oliver Sacks

Author and neurologist Oliver Sacks announced he has terminal cancer in an op-ed in The New York Times. In his thoughtful and inspiring essay, Dr. Sacks discusses his diagnosis with terminal liver cancer at the age of 81 and how he intends to approach the little time he has left.

Dr. Sacks is the author of many bestselling books. He is best known to the public for his book Awakenings, which was an account of his treatment of victims of encephalitis lethargica. The 1973 book was made into an Oscar nominated film starring Robin Williams in 1990. Some of his other works include Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, The Island of the Colorblind and Hallucinations. He writes frequently on a wide range of neurological subjects subjects, from autism to migraines. His autobiography, On the Move will be published this spring.

In his essay he discusses his cancer diagnosis which is multiple metastases in his liver which stemmed from the ocular melanoma he was diagnosed with nine years ago. The treatment for the cancer caused him to lose the vision in one eye and he says he is one of the unlucky 2% of patients in which ocular melanoma metastisizes.

Dr. Sacks, who is 81, says he has months to live and he intends to make the most of them. He writes, "It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can." He says his spirits are still high, surprisingly. He says is focusing on only what is most important to him. That means letting some things go: "I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at NewsHour every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming."

He says that he does care about those subject still. But there is not anything he can do about them now and will leave those issues to the young. He says he is afraid and cannot pretend otherwise. But he says his predominant feeling "is one of gratitude." He especially notes his gratitude for the books he has read and the places he has traveled, saying, "I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written."

Photo: Knopf

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