Jeffrey Weiss, a man in his early 60s, is a rare bird: he’s been diagnosed with three different cancers over the course of his lifetime. The latest, glioblastoma (GBM) — a brain tumor — will most likely kill him.
After diagnosing Weiss in December 2016, doctors gave him about a year and a half to live, more or less. And Weiss, with that perspective, is walking a different newsbeat than he has in the past: he’s now reporting on his own impending death.
Journalist Leroy Sievers memorably did the same thing about 10 years ago, commenting regularly on NPR’s Morning Edition about the cancer that would kill him — right up to the time it finally did.
Weiss, a long-time journalist for the Dallas Morning News, reported most recently on energy issues, but has also written on religion, faith, and morality. Now semi-retired (“With the ‘semi’ a lot smaller than the ‘retired,’ he notes), he continues to write. In a major article published in February 2017, he details his journey thus far, including Facebook posts showing how he’s gone from disbelieving laughter at his diagnosis to becoming an empowered patient.
I posed a set of open-ended questions to Jeffrey in June 2017, inviting him to share some basic thoughts about life and death as his own situation teeters between the two. Here’s what he had to say.
HealthCentral (HC): It feels like you went from research about unproven but promising treatments last December to more of an acceptance of the inevitable today. What happened? Did you decide to be hopeful about some things in your life, but not about a cure?
Jeffrey Weiss: Not quite. A day after my surgery, when I was told what I had, I started researching glioblastoma on my iPhone while I was still in the ICU. From the get-go I knew quickly what the median survival is. And what the odds of limits of treatment have been. Still all true.
I have some hope, however, that I’ll beat the median. For one thing, my early symptoms were relatively minor – and remain so. I’m using treatments that have data showing some extension may take place. On the one hand, I need to be aware of the odds. On the other hand, I’m willing to have some hope with some scientific justification.
I am semi-retired, however… I have limits. Fatigue, mostly. And I know I’m not likely to have a long path to the inevitable egress. So I’m living differently. Planning bucket list things. Enjoying, in many ways, a drop in my obligations to do things I don’t much want to.
And I’m still actively researching the dozens of new and experimental GBM treatments getting worked on. Fascinating. Some might be good for me? Who knows.
HC: A lot of cancer patients feel guilty about what their family/friends are going through due to their illness: the fear, the departure from normalcy, the extra work. Even though we know the ones who love us are acting out of love, we still feel guilty. Are you experiencing this kind of guilt (or did you, and it’s dissipated)?
Jeffrey Weiss: I have zero guilt. I had nothing to do with the creation of the cancer. It’s my third cancer and fourth or maybe fifth serious illness in my life. I’m 62, not 32. My wife and I have no children. And so far, I’m still in pretty good shape most days. There will come a time when that will not be true. I don’t anticipate feeling guilty then, either.
HC: A fatal disease is scary. We all fear the unknown, and while it’s pretty certain that you know your egress, you don’t know exactly when, or the type of departure it’ll be. Do you find yourself fighting that middle-of-the-night fear?
Jeffrey Weiss: Ah, fear. Having gone through colon cancer, follicular lymphoma, type 1 diabetes, and colitis, I’ve gone through plenty of health issues. So far, I’m not really afraid. As I said, I’m 62 and not 32. I’m in no hurry to hit the egress. But it’s not the same as I would have felt years ago. I’m staying aware. So fear of the unknown isn’t hammering me yet. My goal is to be aware of my odds while maintaining a level of hope that is logical. As of now, I can do that.
HC: You write about Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching having helped you through a previous bout with cancer. Is there anything in particular that speaks to you now, on a spiritual level?
Jeffrey Weiss: I am thinking a bit about the impact of what I’ve learned about religion and spirituality might be on me. What do those various points of view that I’m aware of, partly because I covered religion/ethics for more than a decade, offer that could help me now? I’ve come up with some things that I’ve written about for Religious News Service [RNS]. But because I’m an agnostic with a strong sense of doubt, theology is more interesting than useful to me.
HC: What will be the best link for readers to keep up with your posts going forward?
Jeffrey Weiss: My most current posts are, no kidding, Facebook posts. RNS will be my most frequent major post, inshallah; the RNS columns are about twice a month. Dallas Morning News (DMN) will be less frequent, but the large pieces I’ve done remain accessible on dallasnews.com. I have a new DMN piece set to run online this week [June 13, 2017]. And one or two other ideas I may do in a month or so. These are all topics I want to write about occasionally. That’s my goal. For as long as I can.