August 5th, 2010
04:01 PM ET

Hitchens on cancer diagnosis: 'Why not me?'

Update: Watch Anderson's interview with author and Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Christopher Hitchens on his cancer diagnosis and whether it has changed his thoughts on God. Watch a new extended version of the interview.

Editor's Note: Read Christopher Hitchens's Vanity Fair article in which he opens up about having esophageal cancer.

Anderson Cooper

I just flew down to Washington to talk with author Christopher Hitchens. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

Many people upon receiving a cancer diagnosis would ask "why me?" Hitchens's answer, is "why not me?"

Much of his hair has fallen out, but he seems strong as ever. We discussed whether his diagnosis has in any way altered his well-known opinion of religion and prayer.

Tune in tonight for the full interview.

Read author Stephen Prothero's CNN blog about Christopher Hitchens.

soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. getterdun

    When I saw that Mr. Higgins has cancer it reaffirmed my belief that negative people often end up with serious health problems. I feel sorry for him, but I think it's another lesson that life is short, and we need to be as upbeat, happy, and positive as we can to lengthen it.

    August 6, 2010 at 5:27 am |
  2. VegasRage

    I really enjoy Christopher Hitchens, I hope really you pull through beyond all odds.

    August 6, 2010 at 5:25 am |
  3. Scott

    Great man. I wouldn't have held any grudge if he had repented and started praying in such a scary and dismal time in his life, but I must say that hearing him say he hasn't and he won't only makes me respect him more.

    He is holding tight to his moral compass and at a time when most of us would be frightened or have just given up he is still the voice of reason. I hope he pulls through this for himself, for his fans and for the atheist community as a whole.

    I won't be praying for you Mr Hitchens but I will certainly be hoping you get better.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:57 am |
  4. Lawrence

    I love you, Mr. Hitchens (Hitch). We will all die somehow, but at least your death will be final, just as you wished it to be. I "pray" your notions of atheism are true, not only for you but for all of us. How awful to be alive just to be slaves to the barbaric yahweh and all of his wretched bastard offspring and idiotic upstarts, and their pathetic followers to the grave and beyond. You look good without hair, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. None are more courageous than those who acknowledge the pleasures of their life and the potential consequences thereof. Therein lies true maturity, as opposed to the perpetual infanthood on offer by our "great" religions.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:36 am |
  5. Pierre

    He's right on many things here. Death bed conversions dont matter. But while belief under duress is reprehensible and moreso ethically dubious belief, I find philosophical belief for its own sake in a likely infinite and obviously qualitative existence as being an indicator of more than mere mechanism and the mundane. So spiritual belief is only true when its approached properly. If you believe out of fear you dont have good religion. His long running point has been that its the only kind that exists and in that I dont agree. I also dont think its insane for a being to seek that kind of intellectual philosphical spirituality when desperately ill either tho.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:34 am |
  6. Ivan

    I won't offer prayers for you, Mr. Hitchens.....
    I will thank you for your solid strength and honesty in the face of this hard time in your life. Fear must be there, but you are handling it in an inspiring manner.
    Ivan Bawa.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:01 am |
  7. Bob Zmuda

    Most anyone who has carefully and methodically realized that there truly is NO god doesn't just turn into a ninny because they're dying. Most atheists accept that this life is it. For me personally it has been an impetus to live my life better, and to enjoy it more, knowing that there is no afterlife whatsoever.

    Also, the terrible "no atheists in a fox-hole" quotation is accepted by so many people without realizing that MANY current members of the armed services do not believe in god, and it belittles all atheists as cowards at heart.

    Well, Hitchens is no coward. I hope he recovers fully. I wish that certain Christians wouldn't express a horrific version of glee upon finding out that Mr. Hitchens has cancer. No follower of Christ would ever wish harm upon another person. Shame on you.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:52 am |
  8. Sonya

    I am so sorry about your diagnoses of cancer. My husband went through cancer treatment some 20 years ago. It wasn't an easy road but he beat it and you can too! I want you to know whether you believe it or not that God loves you and is in this with you, even if you don't want him to be. It's just His way...

    August 6, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  9. Nate

    Good for him for not using a sad event to give into the nonsense of faith.

    Whether believing in magic makes you feel better or not has no bearing on whether it's true or not.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  10. Rev. Dr. William Fillmore

    Dear Anderson,
    I've just listened to your conversation with Christopher Hitchens and I think/feel it's it was one of the most significant pieces of journalism I've witnessed in a very long time. Frankly, I've have been underwhelmed by some of your political commentary in the recent past year but this interview was surely one of your finest and an extraordinary moment in television. My thanks to you and to Christopher for reminding us about what it means to be human.
    Bill Fillmore

    August 6, 2010 at 2:17 am |
  11. woodstein

    At age 30, I quit smoking. However, over the last few days, I've felt the temptation to relapse. "Could one more cigarette really hurt?," I've asked myself, trying to justify satisfying my addiction.

    If we're to take any lesson at all from Mr. Hitchens and his current state, it is not, as some religious folks would have us believe, the notion that lack of faith has consequences or that God is wrathful. Rather, it is the lesson that even the most eloquent and intelligent of us still are not invincible when it comes to the ravages of nature.

    In short, it is a lesson to focus on our health now, to take care of ourselves when it counts, rather than face an early death later. For my sake, and those of the people who love me, I intend to take that lesson to heart. And so I thank Mr. Hitchens for his openness and his candor in talking about his diagnosis.

    I do hope that he beats the odds. If not, I hope is passing is painless and peaceful. But no matter what happens, his work and his sharp wit will be remembered for years to come.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:01 am |
  12. Matt from Toronto, Canada

    I love Christopher Hitchens ❤

    August 6, 2010 at 1:55 am |
  13. kendall coen

    I have lung cancer and pancriatic cancer...beliefs in God help me stay strong in the sence that i have him walking by my side and holding me through this..that the reason behind this i know not but hope to know before i pass on,,,

    August 6, 2010 at 1:50 am |
  14. Robrob

    Believer or not, everyone dies. Why would something he already knew his whole life suddenly make him change his mind?

    August 6, 2010 at 1:37 am |
  15. Annie Kate

    At least Hitchens has the courage of his convictions and even something like cancer and death does not sway him into changing those convictions and praying to a God he does not believe in. I wonder though as the disease gets worse or even now if in the wee hours of the morning when it is still dark and the world and its people seem so remote and everything looks hopeless, if Hitchens spiritually reaches out towards something holy and all-powerful to help him in his hour of trial.

    I will be hoping for a better conclusion for Hitchens than most people get with this type of cancer. The interview was fascinating.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:30 am |
  16. Jamie Housholder

    Hitchens is inspiring and motivational. I owe him for being the final straw that broke religions back for me. His courage and intelligence are superhuman and I wish him and his family nothing but the best.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  17. Adam Garvey

    I hope Hitchens pulls through, he's one of the great minds of our times. I certainly will not waste my time preying for an imaginary divine intervention...but one can always hope for the best.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  18. Hitch-23

    I love Christopher Hitchens.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  19. John Q Public

    It takes courage to stay the course, when Atheism lacks many of the refinements and comforts for the dying that exist in mainstream Spirituality. If there is a God, I hope he'd appreciate the tenacity of this generally kind, outspoken, and talented man. If there isn't, he's led a damn good life, and his final moments should be comforted by knowing he's done more than many others in his short time with us.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:53 am |
  20. Joe

    This man is truly an asset to the human race.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  21. Kyle

    thank you christopher for not praying, I believing praying is just a false sense of hope that God may answer your prayers. Sorry but praying will not change the outcome of whatever your praying for.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  22. KevinM7137

    I am a huge fan of Hitchens and wish him the best. He is a champion of truth and rationality in a world drunk on sentimentality and superstition.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  23. Renellen

    To pray connects you to the God within. Once you open your heart and mind, healing occurs. Life is more peaceful. I did surrender after my son transitioned to the spiritual realm in 2006. I pray every night and continue to receive so much light and love from a higher existence. We all have the gift of intuition. All we need to do is surrender and ask. My prays are with Christopher at this time. Thoughts are energy, everything is energy, we are all connected. I learned through grief and tradgedy, so many doors have opened. Once you experience illness or loss, God steps in, and I know that living from a soul level, miracles start to happen, Blessings.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:39 am |
  24. Willowspring

    Being an atheist, he will not understand what I say here. I would rather live my life as if there may be a God (I AM a believer) rather than assume there is not and then have to meet my demise and find there really is a God and He does not know me.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  25. Paige lopez

    Although Mr, Hitchens is an atheist, I respect him as a fellow human being. He is a scholar, and a humanist; I will keep him in my prayers. Good luck, Sir, Paige Lopez

    August 6, 2010 at 12:10 am |
  26. Mike Schrader

    Where is the full interview? I would like to see even more of this interview than is here or on AC360 tonight.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  27. Sophia Garcia


    (My computer died so i'm unable to participate in the live chat)...Thanks for that interview with Christopher Hitchens. That was fascinating... It's the strangest thing to be moved with compassion for someone who hates my Master, but i remember when my days were filled with not caring about God...and then He cast me way down into a place that i was unable to drag myself out of...and then He pulled me up out of it...I'm just rambling now because i really don't have the words to accurately describe the way i feel but i am very sad and troubled for CH...It seemed as though he might shed a tear during the interview at least for his children but he held it together...

    "Oh LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting i am! Behold, You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before You..." Psalm 39:4-5

    August 6, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  28. bill beville

    I first met Chris Hitchens at Cafe Milano in DC a few winters ago and found him to be gracious to a fault. We found common ground in that we both had travel to some of the hot spots around the globe. Many people came and went that evening, but no matter where they were on the social scale, he treated everyone with respect and kindness.
    I admired his knack of thinking out of the box on a variety of subjects. I'll miss his intellect and view of the world around him. God speed, Chris.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  29. Chris

    Hitchens is a great speaker who always seems to look at the other side of things. He is a contrarian, which I mean in a good way, and a breath of fresh air to listen to and read. I hope for the best, I hope for his recovery. He has so much more to do, so much more to write. I've only come to know about him and his work in the past 5 years, but I hope he's around for another 50. He is a great defender of the truth. Always the truth. If only more people were as bright and honest as him, the world would be a better place.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  30. luna

    That's how an unselfish person feels when something bad happens to him/her. Why not me, if so many other people are also suffering? I hope you live much longer, Mr. Hitchens, because the world will be deprived of one of its most intelligent people when you go. I am not praying for you because I do not pray, but I am pulling for your recovery as if you were a very dear friend.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
  31. mabel floyd

    i have read much of his work in the last few years. i have both agreed and disagreed with his opinions.
    he is a talented man. i wish him well.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  32. franklin

    I sincerely hope you get well. Its unfortunate that there are prayer groups praying for you demise ... surely, these groups must have the demon as their master ! Even someone with a modicum of goodness in his/her heart couldn't wish for such a negative outcome for another. I wish you great personal reserve and strength in the difficult path that lies ahead and hope that you fully recover.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  33. Rose

    There's life. There's death. And then there's suicide. And for people who don't know, "closure." Thank you Anderson for that. Mr. Hitchens has put a rational face on facing death...if it helps to cope, I say go for it. On the other hand, Anderson uncovered the humanity that Mr. Hitchens has but is buried behind, belief, age, and whatever else, to the surface. Great.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  34. jim

    I am not a fan of any atheist. But I do feel sorry for him. He made the choice. So be it.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  35. peter

    When he's gone civil discourse will be severely impoverished. One of the smartest and funniest "public" intellectuals, ever. Thank you, Mr. Hitchens

    August 5, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  36. hampton heather

    Brilliant writer. Sorry to hear of the cancer news. I am glad to hear that he does not all of a sudden pray, as if that will heal or help him. May you get well and enlighten us with your words!

    August 5, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  37. Skepgnostic

    I love Mr. Hitchens. He is one of the greatest liberators of our time. I sure hope he gets better.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  38. Furbo

    Hitchens is such a brilliant man. I always like to watch him in his crusade in favor of intelligence, critical thinking and logic. I admire his ability to elaborate ideas and beautifully built talks. Christopher, be sure that you are one of a few people that give me hope of a better future. Please, get better.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  39. TriumPatriot

    Wow, this is horrible! Please get well soon Hitchens!

    August 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  40. richardsrussell

    Life is just an excitement-riddled interlude in an otherwise peaceful nonexistence.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  41. Tom

    I'm hoping you get better. You will always live in my memories. I feel your work will live on, influencing future generations.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
  42. Edward

    A journalist reporting on their own death. I have watched this before. It leaves me with a deeply empty feeling.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
  43. Richard Scott

    You have not only taught me Hitch about Myths but have inspired me to be a truthful person with those whom I love. hope you get better!

    August 5, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
  44. Francis

    Walking the walk and talking the talk !!!!!!!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
  45. Jackie

    As much as I totally dislike Mr Hitchens, I would never have wished this diagnosis on him. I wish him the very best.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  46. Lola

    I have never heard of this man.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  47. Michael

    Stay strong Hitchy! Looking forward to your speedy recovery.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  48. mindy1

    I don't agree with him, but I wish him luck

    August 5, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  49. Tiya

    Why not Christopher Hitchen indeed? He's a heavy drinker and smoker – both of which are risks. He's smart enough to figure that out. The pity is that his unhealthy behaviors will deprive society of his necessary and blistering criticism of religion and the evils it wrought.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  50. AGramsci

    Why pray? Since there is no god, that would be silly.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
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