Christopher Hitchens has no talent for denial, he tells Vanity Fair. A few short weeks ago, the famously contrarian author and journalist, 61, was at a high point, celebrating the release of a new memoir that had climbed to the best-seller list, when he woke in a New York hotel room gasping for breath and barely able to move. “I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death,” says Hitchens, whose lifelong love affair with scotch and cigarettes is well documented. But this was no mere hangover. “I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse.”
Tests would later reveal an advanced stage of esophageal cancer, with cancer cells spreading to his lymph nodes and a lung. Never one for “sentimentality and self-pity,” Hitchens says he “can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair. I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction.” But he is stricken by the likelihood that he won’t live to see his three children married, or to write the obituaries of his many archenemies. Chemotherapy has already robbed him of his hair, his appetite, and his interest in sex; as the “venom sack” drips into his arm, he says, “you feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water. In whatever kind of ‘race’ life may be, I have become a finalist.”
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