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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. Janice

    This interview was rather disconcerting! So many individuals have actually "thanked" him for not praying because of this diagnosis of cancer. My Lord hears the prayer of a sinner who chooses to repent and follow Him.

    I believe it is "idolatrous" to place our intellectualism above "knowing God" through a personal relationship with Christ. Mr. Hitchins' anger toward the Creator is astounding. We should be thankful for our next heartbeat and drawn breath!

    Anger is such a deep-seated emotion; we humans have been "emoting" since sin entered the heart of mankind and introduced the plan of salvation in Genesis 3:15. (If the Rev. Falwell's musings on the identity of the anti-Christ have fueled his anger, I apologize for them. No one knows who that will be but God.)

    Many of us have known loved ones who have lost all hope and given up. They got to the end of themselves and failed to call on the One who could help them. That "emptiness of soul" - that void - can only be filled with a personal relationship with Christ.

    I've enjoyed hearing these "lively" interviews throughout the years. I will pray for "spiritual" healing as well as "physical" healing. God does answer prayers: "Yes", "No", and "Wait."

    August 8, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  2. Janice

    This interview was rather disconcerting! So many individuals have actually "thanked" him for not praying because of his diagnosis of cancer. Some have even denoted a "superhuman" status for his courage and intellectualism. Unknowingly, they've fostered his "idolatry." His contempt for God is astounding. Why is he so angry? (Perhaps some of Rev. Falwell's musings on the identity of the anit-Christ contributed to his anger! No one knows his identity.)

    Anger is such a deep-seated emotion, and we humans have been emoting all over the place since sin entered the world through Adam. The second Adam - the Christ - valued our eternal soul so much that He died and was resurrected to new life for us. Unbelief is the unpardonable sin.

    Mr. Hitchins, like many of us, has known loved ones who have killed themselves. They've evidently gotten to the end of themselves and been left "emtpy." I truly believe it is that "emptiness" in our soul that can only be filled with a personal relationship with God through Christ's atonement.

    I will pray for his "spirit" to be reconciled to the Creator and for his physical healing as well.

    I will pray for Chris: first, for his salvation and then for his physical healing if that is God's will for him.

    August 8, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  3. Ben

    It is indeed a great irony that the gentleman's name means "Christ-bearer"... Or... is it perhaps something greater than irony?

    Humor me for a moment: Weren't Christ's greatest commandments "Love thy God and love thy neighbor"?

    Although Mr. Hitchens cannot love a deity he professes no belief in, wouldn't it be the most sublime opportunity for those who DO indeed believe to show their obedience to said commandments by showing their love for this man, and dare to see the face of God and Christ even in a man who believes in neither?

    It's funny... I happen to be going through the long dark night of the soul myself, and I just so happened to pray for guidance recently. The answer I believe I received was to "meet the face of hope".

    Could it be... I just did?

    If God exists, sir, may He/She/It bless you and yours with a measure of peace and sanity regardless of outcome.

    I will indeed pray for you... after all, what have either of us to lose?

    August 7, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  4. P. Jane

    I feel great sadness hearing of Christopher Hitchins' cancer diagnosis, but I truly feel his case is not hopeless. I've seen my best friend's husband survive Esophagus cancer for over 15 years now. He immediately quit a life-long habit of heavy smoking, had radiation treatment & moved on with his life, with some slight residual problems like permanent hoarseness from radiation & dry-mouth from saliva gland damage.
    I hope Mr. Hitchins hangs in there with treatment, because I have personally seen that this particular cancer is survivable. He is an extremely interesting man & a fascinating writer, with much more to contribute to the world through his impressive intellect & unique perspectives. Please stay strong & commit yourself to a healthier lifestyle now, Mr. Hitchins. The world & your family needs you.

    August 7, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  5. Salim Khan

    For Mr. Hitchens

    I sincerely believe Mr. Hitchens must reconcile with God. He needs God help. Even after having such a terrible disease, CANCER, he must think about getting back to the belief that God is a savior. Well if he does not want to reconcile, i consider it his stubborness. God bless him.

    August 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  6. Tom Z

    What puzzles me is the writers who suggest that non believers will have this great fear of God at the time of death. Why? Is he not ,if he exists all loving, compassionate, forgiving etc? So why fear God. Perhaps the "fear" is not seeing loved ones again, yes, that is logical. And one cannot discount the delirium that proceeds dead withing long and terminal illnesses. Christians also seem to think that there is only one way to beleive, and that other religions and their beliefs, many that focus on the indivual having God like qualities within, are doomed to some hell. I dont believe it,

    August 6, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  7. Christina, Windber, PA

    Hey Anderson

    I was impressed with your interview with Christopher HItchens.His comment about "why not me?" struck a chord with me. My mom always says that. Even if she was just worried about something going wrong, she always said "if it can happen to other people it can happen to you.

    I wish Christopher strength and blessings as he fights this battle. I believe God takes care of those who believe in him as well as those who don't.

    I agree with you about closure. It's only been about 6 months since I lost my mom and I can't foresee even the possibility of there being any kind of closure.

    I wish they would carry 360 live online; I haven't seen the show since Monday. I miss it. Consider it please?

    August 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  8. TodL

    Keith: "now we'll see how far his non-faith will take him.
    I don't know HOW people can NOT believe in God. This world is SCARY, SCARY SCARY....and without the protection of the Holy Spirit, most of us would perish by our own hand, or by circumstances.
    I only feel sorry for Bill Mahar. Both he and this man have mocked and mocked God so often, I weep for their ignorance."

    You feel sorry for anyone who doesn't believe in the desert god of an ancient tribe of Hebrew nomads? I feel sorry for people who spend their lives evading the truth of how incredibly stupid that is.

    How did you learn about your god again? Oh, yeah... mommy and daddy told you. Lucky, lucky you. You're so smart.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  9. Stephan from Berlin

    Christopher Hitchens, once again, shows how strong a person and character he is. I applaud his intellectual strength and integrity. The thought of watching him go is almost unbearable to me. I have always had so much respect for him and many of the things he stands for (while not agreeing with ALL of his political positions, but certainly with his statements on religion!). Selfishly I'm thinking, please do as many interviews a humanly possible. Write another book. Do whatever you can to express yourself and share your thoughts as long as you can, cause it would be such an incredible loss if you were gone. Leave as much as possible before you go. And I feel bad thinking this way.
    I was too young to witness Carl Sagan go, consciously, that is. While I hope more than anything that Mr. Hitchens gets well, I know that if it doesn't work out, he will be the next Carl Sagan in my memory! He has achieved nothing short of immortality, which is something 99,9999999...% will always stay very far from, including myself (and I envy him for it). His life has meant something, and I hope it will continue to do so until the, hopefully distant, final day. No prayer from me, but the sincerest hopes and wishes!

    August 6, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  10. L.-E. Liebst

    The last time I saw such dignity in the face of death was the last Carl Sagan interview.

    August 6, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  11. Wendy S

    Sending well wishes to Mr. Hitchens and his family. And thanks to Anderson Cooper for commenting on so called "closure".

    August 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  12. Buster Bunns

    A brave man at his objective best.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  13. Lars

    Christopher you are voice of reason in a sea of insanity.

    Hope you beat the odds, you are both needed and highly appreciated.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  14. alan

    HItchens: here's something practical.

    Starting immediately, eat only 100% RAW ORGANIC local food, mainly vegetables.

    people have cured cancers this way, check out youtube

    August 6, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  15. Joyce Lively

    This was one of your best interviews especially because you allowed youself to get involved–it was most like listening in on a conversation between two very interesting adults. I could have listened for hours. It was serious, warm and in depth. Can't wait for tonights show for the rest but I though Friday was just a recap of the week? By the way I like what seems to be the new format–you are more involved with in it either in the interviews or as the active and involved moderator between two points of view–more like debates. We like your passion and asking provoctive questions of both sides. This is what you do best-not just being an anchor and and referring us from one story to the next. It is why I watch your show every day. We I do like the work of the other correspondents work too. They are good and showed it in Haiti and Louisiana

    August 6, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  16. George M

    I love reading the comments and seperating the religious from the hatefull. I can't believe the open hypocrisy displayed by some who call themselves "saved" or "Christian". You can see the hate bubble up when they comment about what he is going through. You can see the "elation" that some posters (Melanie DeLung) display when commenting on a good man going through tough times. This all hinges on "certitude", the misguided notion that some of these zealots hold, that THEY know what God wants, that THEY know what's wrong or right. I'll leave these people with this image, when you die, what if Christopher is the one who meets you at the pearly gates? I hope he's there to greet you and when you ask God if you've earned the right to enter the kingdom of heaven He shrugs his shoulders and whispers "It's up to him" and he points to Mr. Hitchens.

    Write down as much advice as you can before you die Mr. Hitchens, give us poor miserable bastards as much good material to read before we follow you into the next life. Although I am not an atheist, I am also someone who does not buy into all the mumbo jumbo that is spouted by these so-called religious people. I love your work and your commentary. Your work helps keeps those of us who choose to think for ourselves sane.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  17. Nelson

    Christopher Hitchens is such an inspiration. I think personally, it can be somewhat comforting that even if there is no afterlife of any sort, our bodies become "one" with the elements and thus we are all to an extent, "immortal"... Mr. Hitchens has a body of work that will be read and studied for a very long time. He is blessed to leave a legacy. HOWEVER, Mr. Hitchens, you are still here, still very lucid and sharp and there is a chance you will get better!! Keep doing what you do best for another 60 years!.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  18. Luke Cassidy

    Dearest Hitch, it hurts to see you in this way. I look forward to your recovery.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Anne

    Brilliant interview. Thank you Christian. I agree with Mr. Hitchens the notion of "battling cancer" is absurd. Cancer will always win.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  20. Rodney

    Hitchens is one of my favorite writers, it is nice to know that he is facing death the same way he faces life. The man is a rock, his attitude should be a model for us all.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  21. Michelle Clark

    I wish Mr. Hitchens painless days and peace. There were a few things that resonated with me last night as I watched the interview. I love how he expressed how he felt going through chemo...about how the poison is flowing in and you are supposed to be "fighting" the cancer and it turns out to be the most passive experience you have ever had. Being a cancer survivor myself, I completely understand where he was coming from. When else in this life would a seemingly sane person walk into a clinic and actually accept/allow poison to be pumped into them? The other comment about closure was like a veil being lifted on that concept. I really appreciated that thought and will choose my words carefully when giving that kind of advice in the future. I had no clue and need to apologize to whomever I have laid that crappy term on. Thank you Anderson for bringing such a great interview to us. What a breath of fresh air to see something that makes you stop and take pause and reflect on your own life and the choices you've made so far. To Mr. Hitchens....I am inspired and eager to read all of your work.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  22. J. M. Dean

    Mr Cooper's interview skill and the interview itself is excellent. He is simply a brilliant journalist. He shared his personal experiences and had done his research. Usually American interviewers can be quite business-like but this was professional, yet human without being too Opera.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  23. Cuca

    I disagree and agree with the posts.
    For some lucky ones 3like my self) who do believe in God, praying might cure you. But it may not. The pourpose of praying is not to ask for something to happen. It is to leave things in the hands of God! And not only this, but to have faith that he will be there with us in the journey.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  24. just_jotter

    Honestly, this was to me the best interview Anderson has done to date. It was poignant, pesonal, and had a profound effect on me.

    Long time fan of Christopher Hitchens and his work. Wishing him all the best; that he be surrounded with the people and pleasures he holds most dear.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  25. April in Denver

    I'm going to bet that Mr Hitchens' attitudes about God haven't changed much. Maybe they've gotten more real, past just theory & belief, but no essential change. I'll be sure to tune in and hear for myself. My own view of God is more like his than like the beliefs of the mainstream, so it should be interesting.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  26. Lucy Potts

    Get Well Soon Christopher! You truly changed my life and I will forever be thankful to you for that. I hope you beat the big C, the World needs you.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  27. Don Foster

    mr. Hichens is quite personable for a guy with incurable cancer. Your kids will miss you so why don't you get your life together for them. I wish you luck for a cure. No praying howver. Terve

    August 6, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  28. Joe

    CNN really should offer the complete interviews online. . If we missed it on TV your not going to repeat it.. I want to see the whole interview!!!

    August 6, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  29. Karen

    My sincere "well wishes" go to Mr. Hitchens and his family. In his role as critic, Hitchens has spurred thought-provoking analysis throughout many areas of our society, politics, culture and religion. His honesty to be no less a critic on himself during his illness is admirable, but go a bit easier on yourself Mr. Hitchens, I look forward to many more years of your writing.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  30. jesus

    Fear of death, dying, and mortality brings many to religion and religious dogma. It's a very primitive reaction. Death is just another part of life, the end part. Why we continue to empower the purveyors of first century VooDoo during our lives and especially during one's end time is astoundingly moronic and a complete denial of reality.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  31. Terry from West Texas

    The same things happen to believers that happen to non-believers.

    The same things happen to those who pray as happen to those who do not pray.

    Believers who get cancer die just as frequently as do non-believers.

    Believers are cured of cancer just as frequently as are non-believers.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  32. Greg

    I don't agree with his vehement anti-theism but I respect the fact that he hasn't changed his stance in light of personal tragedy. Denouncing God and then turning to religion in a time of need is, dare I say, cowardly.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  33. Dave

    Why should it alter his view of religion and prayer? Prayer isn't going to fix the cancer and religion has no effect on whether you get cancer.

    It effects everyone, athiests and theists alike.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  34. capnmike

    So what good is "praying"??? It's just begging some non-existant fairytale imaginary being to solve your problems, save your life, or whatever...BUT THERE'S NOBODY THERE! Praying, sacrificing, churches, mosques, synagogues, and all that are just an enormous lie and waste of human time and resources, FOR NOTHING!

    August 6, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  35. Kevin

    "There are NO Atheists in Foxholes....or Cancer wards"......

    now we'll see how far his non-faith will take him.
    I don't know HOW people can NOT believe in God. This world is SCARY, SCARY SCARY....and without the protection of the Holy Spirit, most of us would perish by our own hand, or by circumstances.
    I only feel sorry for Bill Mahar. Both he and this man have mocked and mocked God so often, I weep for their ignorance.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  36. Ben

    Anderson,

    Thank you for doing this interview. It is quite difficult to see Christopher in such a state, but to hear him speak so eloquently about the experience is quite reassuring at the same time. I certainly wish him the best as he quite passively fights his terrible disease. Ha.

    Thanks again, Anderson. Love your show.

    -BH

    August 6, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  37. greg

    Best wishes, Christopher. No prayers. Just my heartfelt wishes for your recovery.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  38. cmkrvc

    Ironic, isn't it? "Christopher" means "Christ bearer." You'd have thought Hitchens would change his name.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  39. alecrebel

    Although I admire Mr. Hitchens' strident intellect, I have often disagreed with his positions, especially those in the political arena. In any case, I wish him well and hope that he will beat this horrible affliction. And I will indeed pray for him and his family.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  40. Astrum

    After watching the video above, I need to say thank you to Anderson and Christopher for mentioning that there is 'no such thing as closure'. It meant a lot to hear that as a person who is always being told by people who don't know, 'you need to find closure', and wondered what the hell that meant.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  41. 14daGipper

    What a fool this man is. What a fool. It's obvious that God has allowed him to be afflicted by cancer so that he might turn from his wickedness and be saved (his soul). That's unquestionably what has happened, but Hitchen is too proud to get on his knees and worship and honor the God that gives him every breath.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:20 am |
  42. Astrum

    Why would it change his opinion? Atheists don't believe things happen to us as punishment for who we are. They believe things happen randomly or as a direct result of our actions (case in point – CH was/is a heavy smoker). Turning to god when he got cancer would make him unreliable and would put into question everything he has done and accomplished prior. (ahem, Anne Rice)
    I think his atheism and his security of belief will help him fight the cancer. I hope he pulls through!

    August 6, 2010 at 8:17 am |
  43. George

    This is a tragedy of the human race. We spend so much time and money finding ways of killing each other but cannot come up with an painless and effective treatment for cancer. As a result, brilliant minds like Christopher Hitchens have to go through hell and may not even make it. Although, I hope Christopher will be alright. His family needs him and we need him too with his exceptional writings. It is amazing to see that he has not stopped writing. I respect him even more for that. LONG LIVE COMRADE.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:43 am |
  44. Larian LeQuella

    Read his Vanity Fair peice. That man can write!

    August 6, 2010 at 7:40 am |
  45. jared4ever

    I LOVE Christopher Hitchens! He's a hero to me and I hope he retains his strength and his sense of humour through this terrible illness. Much love to his family.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:36 am |
  46. John R. Gilbert

    I believe he was a regular smoker?

    He should be asking, "why couldn't I quit?"

    August 6, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  47. Robert C. Mosolf

    I too am suffering from an incurable cancer, multiple myeloma. I am also a Wiccan. Wicca teaches us that life is a circle and death is just as much a part of life as birth. The gods and goddess do not want to hear prayers to cure or extend life, this is a part of life, embrace it. Embrace death? Sure, nobody has any idea what is on the other side but I will find out. Will we meet our friends and relatives who have are crossed over or will there be nothing? Everybody will find out one day. This is life, get over it.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:11 am |
  48. FairlyNormal

    I support Christopher Hitchens 100%. For those religious wing nuts who can't grasp the concept of going through life without relying on mental crutches, I say this: I'd rather be a lion for one single day than a sheep for 100 years. Baaa!

    August 6, 2010 at 6:56 am |
  49. Þorsteinn Halldórsson

    Way to go Christopher and CNN might take a note to add more atheistic points of view on there sites and broadcasts. We are more numerous in the world than quite a few religions and growing.

    I was always taught to think outside the box a little and will not let religion be my coffin.

    August 6, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  50. Melanie DeLung

    I am a Hospice nurse. I can attest to the fact that he will be so sorry he is not spiritually ready to meet God. God is real. I see people die all the time The unbelievers do know at the end they are going to meet God and have great fear.

    August 6, 2010 at 6:53 am |
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