Going Public with Cancer

July 17, 2001

(Memo to HarperSanFrancisco, publisher)

Re: Zen and the Art of Living With Cancer

Public mission for Zen 24/7: All Zen/All the Time

April 2, 2001

Today I was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I am 41 years old. I have a wife and three children, ages 6,4, and 1. I don't want to leave them to a life without me. But if fate should have it that way, God watch over them and give them strength.

We all must die. We cannot choose our time. The way of zen is the resolute acceptance of death, and, having talked the talk through four books, we shall see how I walk the walk, how I fight the fight. The test is here.

Every day is a beautiful day--even this day of cancer.

Love will endure through those whom we have loved.

Life is sorrowful, but to be lived in joy.

Death has insinuated itself inside me.

The only opponent is within.

Those are the words I sat down and wrote upon returning home from the doctor who said he had some "bad news." His finding came as a complete surprise, as the initial diagnosis had been of a mere ulcer. But shocking as the news was, I didn't have to learn how to live with cancer. I already knew. Zen had taught me.

In the six years prior to this one, I'd written fours books on the subject of zen philosophy--how to apply the principles of zen to one's daily life. Ironically, the last of those, Zen 24/7: All Zen/All the Time, was published the day after I received word of my cancer. I say ironic because every word in that book spells out the attitude required to live with cancer: the intense focus on living today; finding joy in the commonplace; moving forward with spiritual resolve on a difficult path. In essence, I had written my own prescription to follow for dealing with my newfound circumstance.

Three and a half months after my diagnosis and well into a regimen of chemotherapy, I'm ready to go public with my cancer--to talk about the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of living with the illness on a day-to-day basis, in hopes that my story might give comfort and inspiration to others. My message is simple: That through zen, one can learn to how to lead a human life under any circumstance, including in the face of a life-threatening illness; that zen is available to all, anywhere you look, and can be a tremendous source of peace and comfort.

To many Westerners, the word "zen" is well known but little understood. In talking about zen and cancer, I'd show how this ancient wisdom applies to our modern world, and how it can work in anyone's life. By no means do I hold myself out as a guru or a saint. I'm just a zen student willing to share what I've learned so far. But in a short time I've seen that there's a vast cancer community out there looking for voices of hope and inspiration. I'm willing to try and be one of those, because I think I have a real story and a real message to offer.

I can talk the talk. We shall see how well I walk the walk.