`Tumortown’

Hitchens Overwhelmed by Cancer Advice

In Christopher Hitchens’ latest dispatch on his battle with esophageal cancer, the writer reflects on the rhetoric of war that surrounds cancer, the abundance of the loopy advice he’s received, and the “religious maniacs” who want to block the use of already-existing stem cells for research. Quoting Pauline Kael’s description of Tinseltown as a place where you could die of encouragement, Hitchens says, “In Tumortown you sometimes feel that you may expire from sheer advice.” He’s been told to ingest the granulated essence of peach pit and to cryogenically freeze his brain until a cure comes along. Some advice sounds just as far-out, but is grounded in more than magical thinking: genetically modifying T cells to attack tumors and using stem cells to “grow” a new esophagus. Unfortunately, he finds his way barred by a legal blockade of Christian fundamentalists. “The politicized sponsors of this pseudo-scientific nonsense should be ashamed to live, let alone die. If you want to take part in the ‘war’ against cancer, and other terrible maladies too, then join the battle against their lethal stupidity,” Hitchens concludes.