I have lung cancer

This afternoon I sent out an email message to about fifty or more of my nearest and dearest, saying that I now have lung cancer. Since among my nearest and dearest are those who read this little blog of mine with any regularity, here is the full text of what that said, for all you good people also:

A message from Brian Micklethwait to as many of his friends, relatives and loved ones whom he can now think of to include in this email list.

Please pass this on to anyone else who you think would appreciate hearing about it, with whatever added apologies make sense for me having neglected to include them on the list to start with.


Dear friends, relatives, loved ones and well-liked ones:

About a week before Christmas, I learned that I am suffering from lung cancer. I had known for a while that something bad was happening. Apparently I have had it for some time, and it has been spreading. From what doctors are now telling me it seems that I may die quite soon. They don’t put it quite like that, but that is how it now sounds.

But, it may not be quite that bad. Being doctors, they are also giving me reasons for optimism, in among the gloom.

First, I do not have the usual sort of lung cancer, the sort brought on by prolonged and heavy smoking, having never been a smoker of any kind. I am told that this sort of “anomalous” lung cancer tends to respond better to cancer treatment than regular smoker-cancer usually does. I suspect that my very dusty home may be part of what set my cancer off, but the doctors prefer to doubt that, at any rather when they speak to me. Genetics? Other unknown environmental triggers? They prefer not to speculate and just to get on with treating me.

Second, cancer treatment has come a long way in recent years. A doctor recently told me that, had I been in my current condition a decade ago, his advice would have been: “Call your lawyer, your priest, and your undertaker, in whichever order you prefer.” Now, my chances are much better.

Third, because I decided to throw the kind of money I can spare at the private medical sector for the diagnosis part of my problem, my condition is now well understood, and I am now, already, getting cancer treatment, from London’s Royal Marsden Hospital in the Fulham Road, which is about as good as cancer treatment can be nowadays.

And, I’m getting this treatment on the NHS. The NHS is overwhelmed by people who have or say that they have medical problems of all kinds and degrees of severity. Had I relied on the NHS to learn the bad news I needed to know, I would probably still not know it. But, once the NHS knows that you have a serious and potentially fatal condition, it then moves fast, and not just technically well but with great human sympathy, if my early experience of treatment is anything to go by, and if what my doctors and my medically expert friends and relatives (such as my sister who was an NHS GP until she retired) are telling me is so. Especially if you are lucky enough, as I am, to live a mere walk away from the Marsden.

So, wish me luck. I may yet live for quite a while. My condition may stabilise. I may even recover. I now doubt that, but you never know.

Some of you will be content to tell me you are very sorry about all this, and that is fine. Such messages mean a lot, and if that is all you want to say to me that’s still a great deal. Just knowing that there are people out there who sympathise means a lot more than you might suppose. (A word of warning. Those who phone me may be subjected to some coughing at my end, a continuous cough having been one of the early signs of trouble.)

If, however, you would like to know more about how to help me in my weeks or months of misfortune, then keep reading, and I’ll tell you. (I have already embarked upon the years version of this scenario, being already over seventy years old.)

The problem is that, especially in these very socially separated times, physical help can be rather hard to contrive. Besides which, very close friends and relatives are already supplying crucial support in ways that are already helping me and cheering me up enormously. Thanks to them, and to the treatment I’ve already been getting, I have had a surprisingly cheerful Christmas.

But, there is something else I ask you to do, should you be so inclined. Don’t just email me about what you can do to help, email the person who is acting as my Senior Coordinating Friend, so to speak. This is Elena Procopiu (she at the top of the email list above). She is the elder sister of my beloved Second GodDaughter, and I am very close to her entire family. Email her, as well as me. Communicate with her about what you might be able to offer, should you be inclined.

I’m sure that all kinds of assistance, such as experience of similar circumstances as well as merely physical help, may materialise in this way.

But, let me now tell you what would really boost my morale.

Tell each other which of my writings you have most liked, and do so just as publicly as you feel inclined. Blogs postings, blog comments, social media, the lot. My circumstances are now no secret. If I do die soon, I would greatly prefer to do this in the knowledge that various things that I have said and written over the years have left behind them a trail of enlightenment and entertainment, and might be fondly remembered, for a while at least.

This is quite a lot to ask, because I fear that my more impressive pronouncements are scattered in amongst a vast pile of trivia and obfuscation. But, if you want now to cheer me up, try to dig out some of the more worthwhile things that you think I have said and done – often just sentences or paragraphs rather than longer and rarer stretches of eloquence – and hold them up for a bit of admiration and reflection.

Maybe there are photos I’ve taken over the years that you happened particularly to like. Recycle or link to them too.

Here might be a good place to start.

Or you could try here here.

Or here, which still seems to be working after a fashion.

Or you might care to sample some of these recent efforts, if you have the time.

If you recall having attended one or some of my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings at my home, perhaps because you were kind enough yourself to be the speaker at one or some of them and found that particularly helpful and stimulating, then please take the time to tell any other people who might be interested about that.

This is a lot to ask, but if you don’t ask for what you want in life, or in my case potential death, you are far less likely to get it, and this is what I want. If only a few people feel inclined to say and do things along these lines, it would cheer me up lot as I make my exit, if that is what is about to happen.

A late thought. My deadly sin has always been sloth. Had I merely died, one fine day, just like that with no warning, it is almost certain that I would have died failing to say or do many of the things I would have most wanted to say or do before going. As it is, having now been told about my possibly imminent death before it actually comes may turn into something of a blessing for me. Live every day as if it is your last, we are often told. That is pretty much what I am now doing, as best I can manage in my now weakened state. I still have a few public pronouncements that I’d like to offer to the world before I go, and there is every chance that I may now manage to say at least some of those things, the way I probably would not have done had I just died with no advance warning, and even if I had lived for quite a bit longer.

Which I may yet be lucky enough to do. If so, win-win.

Even if it goes win-lose, I don’t feel that I deserve the sort of send-off I am asking for. All my life, I have been showered with advantages, not least in the form of more unearned wealth than most inhabitants of this planet could ever dream of having bestowed upon them. I have not done nearly well enough as a communicator, given all the chances I have had, for me to be able to expect the sort of send-off that I would like and for it to happen of its own accord.

But, I nevertheless ask for it. This is what I would like.

It is putting it mildly to say that not everyone on this email list shares my political inclinations and attitudes, or for that matter aesthetic tastes and opinions. So if all you really want to say to me is: “Bad luck mate. Nice, on the whole, to have known you”, well, I’ll gladly take that.

I’ve tried quite hard to avoid grammatical errors and mis-spellings in this, but some will inevitably remain. It’s now time to stop this and just send it out. More to come, I hope, maybe from me, maybe from others, with news of medical progress, or perhaps just with news of how it all turns out. But if not, then: not. It was certainly good knowing all of you.

All the very best to you and yours,

Brian Micklethwait

If you are personally known to me and want to get in touch with my very dear friend Elena Procopiu, mentioned in the middle of the above text, I suggest you leave a comment below to that effect, and I’ll be sure that the connection is made.

28 thoughts on “I have lung cancer”

  1. Hi Brian,
    I am sorry to hear about your situation and I wish you luck in achieving one of the better outcomes.
    I have certainly enjoyed reading your blog(s) over the years. In part you inspired me to take up photography again a few years ago. I had fallen into a rut of feeling that everything out there had been snapped 1000 times by people much better than me, but I learned again to enjoy the activity for its own sake.
    I actually remember what post led me here (or more accurately to the old blog), you posted about ‘mundane’ things being aesthetically unappreciated until they begin to be less mundane. I think we could all do well to find pleasure in the mundane.
    Warmest regards, FNS

  2. Dear Brian

    I am very sad and sorry to hear this, and I pray for you, metaphorically at least, that you will pull through it.

    My favourite of your writings is an article you wrote on a performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata by Emil Gilels: https://www.samizdata.net/2004/04/appassionata/

    I have put the music on now as I write this. Your write up still makes me smile.
    “Into such a world, this performance of the Appassionata by Emil Gilels erupted”
    “like a classical painting, covered in stab wounds, real ones I mean”
    “by God is he angry”
    “it made me think of beloved relatives snatched away and lost for ever, and of the rage that those left behind felt about what had been done to their loved ones and to themselves”
    “an infinitely tender phrase … is yanked out of itself by the final soft chord being turned into a tantrum of extremely loud chords … and then, as if shushed by an armed policeman, it goes back to another tender phrase as if nothing had happened”

    Brilliant stuff.


  3. Oh Brian.
    The injustice, the unfairness of it.
    We met in person only once, all 10 yrs ago, and I was struck at the time how totally you match your online image. This is a rarity – and speaks of your sincerity, online and off.

    No stand-alone post or sentence come to mind immediately – but we often share the same view on matters Architecture. And “photoing.” And roof clutter. And,of course, liberty.
    You are a courageous man.
    Wishing you – for the New Year – to get well. Nothing is more important.

  4. Finally, I am back and able to comment, and (which I will do another of shortly) do postings. My thanks to Mark Rousell, aka the Guru, who dropped by this afternoon and fixed everything. It’s during times like the ones I’m having that you learn who your friends are and how numerous they are. Turns out I have a lot, and they are top-of-the-range.

  5. Tim
    Ah yes, that Beethoven Gilels posting. Thanks for remembering that. It is especially pleasing to be remembered for something not obviously libertarian. Beat the drum for a Political Team. and of course all the other team members join in. Easy. But when you say something off that beaten track and someone likes that, it is especially gratifying.

    Thanks for those kind words. Same thing. Roof clutter, photoing, architecture. And liberty. That’s good too. Here’s hoping we may meet again.

  6. As for the injustice of me, aged 73, getting what may actually turn out not to be an immediately fatal dose of cancer, well, my uncle John (my mother’s only and elder brother) was shot dead, at the age of 20, seven years before I was born, in a naval target practice.

    Compared to that, and compared to all the other injustices that people everywhere and throughout history have suffered, then even if I am dead in a month, I will have got off very lightly. I have had plenty of chances to make a good life for myself and my comrades, friends and nearest-and-dearest. And now to add to my good fortune, I am being told by all manner of lovely people that I did okay with a lot of those chances. Just by me coming right out and asking them to say this.

    I’ll take it.

  7. And for the benefit of third parties, this email flagged up an amazingly generous posting about my bloggage over the years that 6k just did at his own blog.

    If you don’t ask you don’t get. I did ask, and I am getting now, in an extraordinary way.

    GD1 sent me a long email yesterday about what a good GodFather I had been to and for her that was equally cheering. And there have been lots of other such incoming messages. Very heartening, and as 6k says, morale can make a big difference when it comes to cancer.

  8. DK


    It’s not all bad. When it might soon end, life has a zest and sparkle it doesn’t otherwise necessarily have. Especially if you are me.

    And there’s nothing like telling a bank clerk you’ve just been diagnosed with lung cancer and you need this bank account information now, no messing, to get the wheels turning.

    I’m starting to think that if I had carried on farting around for another decade or so, until one day, with no warning, a plank fell on me in the street and I snuffed it, that would have been worse. A medical possible (that’s all it is for now) death sentence is actually quite a good cure for my particular Seventh Deadly Sin, which is without doubt sloth.

    Or, maybe it’s just the steroids.

    But yes, I would like those Gods you mention to put a stop to it. Near death experiences are to be preferred to actual death experiences. I do definitely still think that.

    1. And there’s nothing like telling a bank clerk you’ve just been diagnosed with lung cancer and you need this bank account information now, no messing, to get the wheels turning.

      I wish you’d got diagnosed sooner: I could have done with your help with BT a couple of months ago… 😉


  9. Brian, I always liked your posts on SI, especially the ones with photos you’ve been taking while roaming around London. But my fondest memory is of the time when I actually met you at Michael’s a few years back. Tatyana is right: you are very much the same person in-person as you are on page, and you were one of the main reasons I enjoyed that little party so much. I hope that you and I, and the rest of the SI gang get to meet again, and I wish you all the luck and strength you need to beat this damned thing.

  10. In normal circumstances, I would invite everyone to my place for another party, and would encourage Alisa to fly over. But that’s not possible at the moment. Not making any point, other than that pandemics suck.

  11. Dear Cousin,
    Many years ago, I planned to walk with my friend Michael Trend from Blair Atholl to Glen Feshie, through a pass in the Cairngorms called the Lairig Ghru. At this time, I was devising ever more complicated socks to make on my circular knitting machines, and to wear on this walk I made a pair with the words “LAIRIG GHRU IN ’82” written round the top of each. It was done in such a way that the message could be read from one sock to the other, either in front or behind. As it turned out, the walk never took place because just when it was supposed to happen, my daughter Molly was being born. Michael and I attended the birth instead.
    The socks are well remembered in the family, and my son Walter suggested the other day that it might be time for a new pair, bearing the message “HAVE MORE FUN IN ’21”. We certainly hope to do so, as we too have been having a rather horrible time since Tina’s son Ben died in October.
    May the gods allow us all a happier time this year !
    With best wishes,

  12. Yes, that would be nice to see you all again (if I’m invited) – and walk over London’s bridges. I second Alisa in wishing you strength to fight and resist the thing.
    Hoping, against the odds.

  13. David
    I am very sorry to hear about Tina’s son Ben dying. That certainly puts my present sufferings into perspective. I can’t even imagine how she must have felt and still be feeling. Please pass on my deepest condolences.

  14. Alisa

    Sorry to have taken so long to thank you for your kind words. I too recall that gathering at Michael’s, very fondly.

    Here’s hoping Michael will soon be able to have more such gatherings, and that I may be fit enough to attend some of them.

    Like Cousin David says: More fun in 2021!

  15. Quite a few people have told me over the last year that they have missed the gatherings at my place. I shall certainly be holding them again as soon as it is safe to do so. (I’ve done lots of cooking in lockdown, so lots of new dishes are going to be presented to my guests). Brian, I hope very much that you shall be fit to attend, of course.

  16. Brian, I’m very sorry to hear this, which I’ve only just found out. We met a few times in the Alternative Bookshop and at a big LA conference in the mid-1990s, and you published a couple of my essays. The writing of yours that had the biggest effect on me was How to be Successful, which contained many nuggets of sound advice and which I’m fairly sure contributed to my becoming a professional writer. My views are no doubt far from yours, and farther than they were back then, but I’ve always thought of you with affection and admiration, and I wish you all the best.

  17. Brian, I’ve only just heard about this. I am saddened. It made me think that I should have spent more time around you over the years, rather than just seeing you at the odd LA conference or the occasional gathering at Christian Michel’s. But I’m very glad to see that you’re still writing on this blog, and your inimitable style doesn’t seem to have suffered any change for the worse!

    Your major contribution to my own libertarian experience was as editor, rather than writer – you published at the LA my first libertarian paper “State Your Terms,” back in 2002. That was so far back, that it went out on paper and in the mail! Many thanks, Brian; without your crucial help I don’t think I could have written nearly as much in the intervening decades as I have.

  18. Neil, thanks for the very kind words.

    And yes, physically I am okay, although not the man I was two years ago. But mentally, I am still, as you so kindly say, ticking over, thanks to how cancer treatment has advanced in recent years, and even months.

    I am, sort of, very lucky.

  19. Dear Brian,

    I was shocked and deeply saddened to get your news about your cancer diagnosis.

    We go back a long time to the days when Chris Tame was at his peak, and I fondly remember our many get-togethers during that time. I learned a huge amount from you both, and indeed, from all our LA comrades, including Sean Gabb and Tim Evans too.

    I am particularly grateful for your generous help and guidance when I was preparing my Chris Tame memorial lecture in 2010. You were also kind enough to make it all the way up to the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire and we had those splendid walks (and of course, chats) in the Peak District.

    I wish you much peace, good spirits and health in whatever time you have left. None of us know the date we will croak, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to outlast us all. I remain hopeful for your continued long and happy life.

    Your grateful friend


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *