Wednesday, October 24, 2007

October 24, 2007 - Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture"

I'm still pondering a segment of the Oprah Winfrey show I watched on Monday.

I'm not in the habit of watching Oprah (nor any other daytime TV show, for that matter), but I did set my TiVO to catch this one. I did so because I'd read in Kris Carr's Crazy, Sexy Cancer blog that she'd scored a guest invitation to this mother of all daytime talk shows. I wanted to see if she had anything new to say.

Oprah's theme that day was what the dying have to teach us. About a third of the show was devoted to Kris, and the rest to Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Personally, I found Kris' segment less interesting (not because of any shortcoming in her presentation, but because I'd heard much of it before, viewing her film). Randy was quite a different matter. This was the first time I'd heard of him – despite the fact that videos of a lecture he gave at Carnegie-Mellon are all over the internet, and he's been featured in news articles and on several other network talk shows and news broadcasts.

Randy's got pancreatic cancer, and the doctors are giving him 2-3 months to live. You wouldn't know it from looking at him – he looks the picture of health. He even did some one-armed push-ups, just to demonstrate how fit he is.

Yet, beyond a doubt, Randy is dying – even though he's experiencing few symptoms right now, and has no pain. He's already had a Whipple operation – a radical re-sectioning of his stomach, liver, intestines and other internal organs – as a last-ditch effort to buy a little time. In a few months, his liver will cease to function, the cancer will spread to surrounding tissue in his back, his intestines will shut down and he'll experience severe, unremitting pain (although much of that can probably be mitigated by narcotics, provided he's willing to sacrifice his mental acuity).

It's about the worst diagnosis imaginable. But, that's pancreatic cancer for you. It's a stealth cancer that almost always evades detection until it's too late, then brings on a swift and painful death. In the various support groups I've been part of, I've watched how people who can glibly discuss all manner of grisly treatments and side effects fall into a respectful silence when the words "pancreatic cancer" are mentioned. There's so little hope of recovery.

Carnegie-Mellon evidently has a distinguished faculty lecture series known as "The Last Lecture." Those invited to speak in this venue are challenged to imagine they have but one final lecture to give, on the topic of their choice – then, to deliver it. Randy is the first lecturer in this series for whom the instructions are no mere thought- experiment. For him, they're all too real.

He gave the lecture, he says, not so much for the university, as for his three small children. They're so young that, as they grow up, they will have only fuzzy memories of what he was like, personally. This videotaped lecture is his one, best chance to record for them the principles by which he has sought to live his life.

Oprah had Randy deliver a Reader's Digest version of his one-hour lecture on her show. You can view the whole lecture elsewhere on the internet, but the Oprah mini-version is here:

Cancer – especially pancreatic cancer – is the most demanding teacher ever. Randy's done a real service to his fellow human beings, in refusing to bow before this teacher's brutally harsh discipline. Rather, he has wrested the lesson from his disease's icy grasp and shared it with us.

Thanks, Randy.


Kerry. said...

Thanks for posting Randy's Lecture from Oprah.
Its incrediably pointed about life. The last frame of him with his kids hit me like a ton of bricks.
I came here from Leroy's blog and been reading for sometime.
I am a ten year survivor of small lymphocytic lymphoma, stage four. I currently blessed with a good remission after it returning three times. I am a Mom of three kids now in their twenties. In the beginning of my disease so many things were wrong and with 58% of my bone marrow with a problem they told me three months. I was in shock how could this be. I remember thinking some of the same thoughts and making my kids ready for what could happen.
Then all of a sudden i responded to chemo which they did a trial of fludarabine in hopes it would kick it back I was lucky. It did and with a tiny response we continued it. I was in a partial remission and stable till 2000. I then due to head and neck issues was put on taxol for a short time..That was a hassle and I got sick from it but
two treatments held it back for a year. They stopped it when I ended up in isolation twice. In 2001 it came back and it was with vengence near the pancreses..(sp never was good at it ) and lower bowel. Irocially on the skull as well. There was talk about donor transplant but no donor out there up to that point. So with bilateral
bmb they found the marrow was still clean. I then did a clinical trial of leukine and rituxan. However prior to that thirty rounds of radiation to the skull. I am happy to report that was six years ago.

One thing I have learned is we try everything out there and hope that gets us to the next hurdle. With some luck it slams it back to the dark ages.

I love Randy's Lecture because it reminds me of what I felt so many times. I seem to keep looking back at the experience and what it gave me back. But I remain well aware of what it can take from me.

I pray that things go well for you.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for awhile and include you and your family in my prayers. Another blog I read is this one - her entry today is absolutley beautiful and I'm so thankful there are people like you and her to write about hope and how we should cherish each day we're blessed with.
Love and prayers, Natalie