Enjoy Every Sandwich; Living each day as if it were your last, by Lee Lipsenthal, MD ★
I read books or watch movies given to me by friends with great reluctance. Unless I’ve known you a long time, I typically find that the differences in world-view or likes tend to not mesh. This is an example of a book given to me by a friend who felt that it was most significant in his life. He felt this to be a great gift as well as source for meaningful conversation the next time we meet. It was a great gift, though I truly found that I could not connect with the book. Here is why.
Enjoy Every Sandwich is the autobiography of Dr. Lipsenthal, focusing mostly on the last two years of his life, when, at age 51, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, went through typical cancer treatment with the addition of some New-age medicine, only to die slightly more than two years later. Lipsenthal candidly expresses his thoughts from the last two years of life, and his desire to enjoy life to its fullest is appreciated.
Where Lipsenthal fails is in his ability to understand fully the nature of his experience. He describes his “battle” against cancer as his war on cancer, and his dying as simply fulfilling the Kübler-Ross stages of dying. The war metaphor for cancer I find especially troubling. We never speak of the war on flu, or appendicitis, or diabetes, or dental caries, and when the war metaphor is used, such as in political campaigns or the war on drugs, it is usually by a government entity trying to dupe the public into cooperating with their silly nonsense of creating a straw enemy that trillions of dollars could be wasted in order to “fight”. It’s as though Adolph Hitler and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus were comparable entities. Regarding the Kübler-Ross stages, that is total nonsense. The emotions that a person experiences when dying are multiple and far more expansive that Kübler-Ross describes, and the variability in the order of progression (stages) is as multiple as the Betz cells in her brain, though they might be few.
What I found even more disturbing with this book is the authors’ absolute obsession with himself. He is one of the most self-absorbed narcissists that I have ever read. There is no dimensionality in his life, and the cancer doesn’t make him progress as a person. Such moments as when he threatens to leave his wife if she didn’t start connecting with his alternative medicine – New age medicine thinking was typical of his overwhelming self-importance. All that really mattered was himself. Lipsenthal doesn’t end life with notions of higher aspirations, or the feeling that the impact of his life gave others a fuller meaning, other than dragging his family and friends into the inexorable hell-hole spiral where he was headed. Following Buddhist thinking, he could give no meaning to his pain and suffering, and thus had to form a “universe” in which the pain he was experiencing was not actually real or of value. Then I think about the person Lipsenthal, he is exactly the person I would avoid, and choose not to befriend. His inspiration comes from rock music, sports, and himself. His world had no meaning and had no dimension outside of himself.
Yet, it is his advice on health care alternatives which are the most disturbing to me. Lipsenthal generates an amalgam of native American spiritism, Buddhism and spiritism, new-Age thought, mysticism, and Wiccan thought into a form of “spirituality”. True, Christian religion was mentioned, but his thoughts on Jesus and advice from scripture were most in line with what the Scripture uses to describe Satan and his lies. Indeed, Lipsenthals paranormal mystical experiences prove only that there is something out there beyond what science itself can discover. It fails to show that there are contesting “spirits” in this spiritual world, good and evil, and that evil is a true oncologic entity, not just something that the Buddhist can wish away into non-existence. Lipsenthal is most worried about happiness, which only makes sense if you conclude that there is no such thing as truth, true meaning, redemption, or morality. His second to last chapter is on love describes a love that is alien to my thought on true self-sacrificial love, as well-described in I Corinthians 13. His love is a narcissistic love, a love for self, and the warm fuzzy feeling that perhaps others also love him, and that he loves them in return.
I remain at a total loss as to how mankind can give up the eternal truths of the Holy Scriptures, and buy the rubbish of the new spirituality. In a sense it is no wonder, because Scriptures remove your focus from yourself and places it on God alone. Christ makes impossible demands on you, yet gives you the strength to live right, and forgiveness through his death (substitutionary atonement) to allow the triune God to treat you as though you did nothing wrong in His eyes. All that you must do is believe in Him. So simple. So true. But, it is so contrary to our very human nature that wishes to do the work for our personal salvation, to merit God, to become intrinsically good, to be a “self-made” person, and to honor ones self as god. For the Christian, our duty is to glorify God and enjoy Him. We give Him glory in our health and also in our sickness, as we trust Him as an all-loving God, the embodiment and ontological definition of true love. Though He has ordained all that comes to pass, we find meaning in our lives by orienting our lives, and the lives of those we come into contact with, in a worshipful relationship with our creator God. Sickness and death are a great evil, but God uses the evil that comes upon us in a meaningful way. Life in its totality becomes a joyous experience as we live it coram deo. I offer only one alternative author, C.S. Lewis, in his two books A Grief Observed and Surprised by Joy, autobiographical accounts that give an alternative view of the world, our existence in it, and suffering. As a cancer doctor, I can give countless examples of seeing both miserable deaths and meaningful deaths. Of the meaningful deaths, the death of a Christian holding fast remains the most overwhelming. Lipsenthal has offered a cheap imitation to the truly significant life. I pray that readers would find the shallowness of his thinking and discover the true riches of life and death as found in Christ alone.