Life Itself

What I’m Reading Now

I can’t afford to buy all of the books I read, so checking out books from the library  is one of the ways I control my budget.  If I must have a copy for my very own, I wait for the paperback to come out.

This week, though, I found a book that I couldn’t resist and I bought the hardcover edition of Life Itself, a memoir by Roger Ebert.

I used to watch Siskel & Ebert and I always appreciated Ebert’s reviews, but lately I’d lost track of him. Other than clicking on a link to his website to read his opinion of a film I was interested in seeing, I didn’t know much about his life or career after the death of his co-host and friend.

When I picked up the book, I was drawn to the quote on the back:

“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.  To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

This idea rang true for me. It’s a philosophy that I need to believe.

Then I opened the cover of the book to read the jacket copy and learned that Roger Ebert is a thyroid cancer survivor. Like me. Unlike me, the surgeries he had to endure left him unable to swallow or speak. How had I not known about his ordeal?

My doctors said that if they had to pick a cancer, they would pick thyroid papillary carcinoma. The survival rate for adults is 95% at ten years. Patients under 40 and those with small tumors have a better prognosis. I was 35 when I was diagnosed and my tumor was small. Lucky me.

But I know that I am fortunate. I had one surgery to remove my thyroid gland, I was treated with radioactive iodine to kill any stray cancer cells, and now I take a daily thyroid pill to replace the hormones that my body can no longer produce. I didn’t feel lucky that year, though, when I was terrified, exhausted, and struggling to find a dosage that worked for me.

Roger Ebert wasn’t lucky. He had several surgeries to remove his thyroid gland, a cancerous salivary gland, and part of his jaw bone. He can no longer eat or drink and he can’t speak. But he is still reviewing films, still writing, still living a full life. I want to learn from him.

Since childhood I’ve feared being deficient. I thought I had to be perfect, to please everyone. As I got older, I started to feel that I owed a debt to society for the privilege of being a part of it. By now I’ve learned that in trying to please all, I can truly please none, but it isn’t easy to fight those old thought patterns.

This memoir seems like a good way to reinforce the lesson I’ve been trying to absorb: that my purpose in life is simply to be myself as best I can. That doesn’t mean that I turn my back on the needs of others. But it does mean that I must focus on what brings me joy. Family and friends, my dog and my garden, reading and writing. If I spend my energy on those things, I will be happy and that happiness is something I will be able to share with the world.


Filed under Books, Reading, Writing

28 responses to “Life Itself

  1. Yet another great post. I love the book review and now I want to read it too. You share your story and your experience beautifully!

  2. Great ideas. If each of us has joy it’s going to rub off on others.

  3. I’ve known about Roger Ebert for a long time, but I had no idea about you and your own personal struggle with cancer. I’m so glad you came out of it on top. Thank you for sharing. Like Kim, makes me want to read more about Roger’s story, too.

  4. iowadogblog

    I think buying books is a little bit like eating–you have to allow yourself treats sometimes. Good for you for buying this hardcover that is so meaningful to you!

  5. Shary thank you for such personal post and I like your book review too.

    • I’m never sure how much to share, but when I found this book, I wanted to express why I was drawn to it, and I couldn’t do that without opening up.

  6. anita

    This was lovely, Shary… Anita

  7. Hi Shary
    Loved the book review which makes me want to read the book. But also it was brave of you to share your personal story and connection with Roger. So glad to hear it was a past experience and that it had such a good outcome!

  8. I had no idea RE had cancer and had lost his ability to talk and swallow. Wow. Thank you for sharing your own experience with this disease as well. I’m really glad you are ok. This sounds like a very inspiring book. People like him amaze me. I’m not so certain I would live with this kind of disability, with such grace.

  9. indeed, the quote was worth sharing. Thanks for that.
    Adversities makes for a difficult road but that’s where the
    learning comes in and the old adage that if you can’t change
    a situation, change the way you look at it helps. I’m sure Ebert
    does that as best he can, which keeps him going strong.

  10. elizabeth dobbs

    I’m trying to live as well as I can, each day. Best life, best parent, best marriage best anything? No way for me. I don’t like feeling like life is a compatition with winning and losing. I’m just here for the fun of it.

  11. Great post. Great wisdom. Great courage.

  12. Thanks for the great review and wonderful post. I had no idea you went through this yourself. I saw Roger Ebert on Oprah talking about his ordeal and I have to say I was blown away by his courage and stamina. I don’t know if I’d have the courage like he has. It’s a wonderful lesson for all of us.

  13. Very touching reflection on your reaction to reading Roger’s book. I knew he had been ill, but I did not know the whole story. Think I’d like to read his book, too.

  14. Shary, what a truly beautiful and touching post! I have not yet read Ebert’s book but I did read about his battle with cancer. He’s a fighter, that one, and so are you! Kudos to you for focusing on what brings you joy!

    • Thanks, Bella. I think I’ve spent too much time trying to please others and in the end, that doesn’t make anyone happy. Changing habits is hard, but I think it will be worth it.