Saturday, August 16, 2008

August 16, 2008 - In Memoriam, Leroy Sievers

Today, we in the cancer-blogging community learned we've lost one of our leading members: a man who has offered unique gifts of courage, candor and love of life. Leroy Sievers, creator of the “My Cancer” blog on the National Public Radio website, has succumbed to the colon cancer that invaded his central nervous system.

In his blog, which grew out of a weekly commentary he recorded for NPR, Leroy offered a daily journal of the parts of his life, large and small, that were affected by his cancer. Those of us who followed Leroy’s blog witnessed with dismay his slow decline in physical independence, even as we watched his spirit soar. From Leroy we learned how to face pain, to seek out the whimsical in the ordinary, to be both patient and a patient, to value human relationships and to discover joy in simple things.

The “My Cancer” blog has become an internet phenomenon, with more than a hundred comments posted every day. Those are just the comments: I couldn’t begin to guess how many lurkers silently visited the blog each day. I’m sure it was well into the thousands.

I used to read some of the comments, as well as Leroy’s own writing. As with any popular blog, the comments are a mixed bag: the thoughts and reactions of a varied bunch of cancer survivors and their caregivers, as well as others who used to check in regularly for whatever reason. Many of the comments responding to Leroy’s death speak of how much his readers will miss him – even though few of those writers have ever met him in person. All they know of him comes from his writings, or perhaps from listening to his NPR broadcasts or Ted Koppel’s interview with him for the 2007 “Living With Cancer” documentary on the Discovery Channel (before he got sick, Leroy was the longtime producer of Ted’s Nightline TV show, and a personal friend of his).

The degree of grief expressed in some of the blog-readers’ comments is a little surprising to me. Leroy was just a guy who kept an online journal, but some of these writers speak of him as though he were a close friend. Such is the intimacy that grows out of common experience: Cancer World, as Leroy used to call it, is a tight little neighborhood. The degree of personal loss expressed by some of these people is a witness to how lonely and isolating the experience can be. Leroy’s daily updates on his struggles made others feel they were not alone. And that was a great thing.

We have lost a great soul. We will miss him.


Anonymous said...

I am not surprised at all about how people have reacted at reading this news. Especially if you read the comments written over the past year. People who read and posted daily felt they were part of a community and that he was an inspiration to many of them.

I have never met him either, yet was very saddened by the news. I actually sat in front of the computer for more than an hour after I first read the news.

Can I say why he touched me? Probably not exactly, but I know his candor is something that I lacked hearing when my brother and mother went through cancer (and eventually died from it).

Many others who go to the blog have cancer now and felt that he was an inspiration. So of course their loss is tangible.

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

When I first started reading Sievers' blog almost two years ago, I was surprised at the expressions of affection permeating so many comments. But I got used to seeing it. So I, too, was not surprised by the response to his death. Leroy - everyone called him Leroy - had the appeal of celebrity combined with the candor that made him "every survivors' everysurvivor."

As I wrote in my blog post, "...Sievers created a place for people to share the good and the bad, the glorious and the shameful sides of survivorship. And in doing so, he encouraged people to talk openly about the difficulties and look harder for better answers."

With hope, Wendy