Death and Dying: Fuck You, Cancer

Looking Death in the Eye

| March/April 1998

Rick Fields, poet, writer, and editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal, was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in 1995 at the age of 53. Fields, a student of Tibetan Buddhism, and his partner, Marcia Cohen, were suddenly forced to deal pragmatically with such lofty issues as impermanence, suffering, and the disunity of body and spirit—questions that most of us dwell upon only hypothetically, if at all. “You're lucky, because it's good for your practice,” his teachers told him. Maybe so, Fields tells Tricycle editor-in-chief Helen Tworkov in this wide-ranging discussion of death and dying, but "this idea that dying is a wonderful experience is a sort of double-edged sword: It is, or can be, but most of us want to stay alive as long as possible. Certainly I do.”

What was your reaction when you were diagnosed with cancer?

My first reaction was 'all hands on deck' because this cancer had been misdiagnosed for over a year and had become very dangerous, so I had to do something pretty aggressive and drastic.

Are you interested in your prognosis?

No. My attitude is 'I'm going to live until I die.' Which is all anyone can do. I don't see the value of having someone say 'You have four months to live.' And I don't want to give that weight to any one person's opinion, whether it is seemingly an enlightened spiritual person or a super Ph.D. or M.D. Fortune-telling has never interested me.

How do you walk between acceptance of death and trying to stop or heal a so-called terminal illness?

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