Veteran news anchor and Greatest Generation chronicler Brokaw (The Time of Our Lives, 2011, etc.) turns inward to report on his battle with cancer.
It began with a constantly aching back—nothing out of the ordinary for a hard-riding septuagenarian who “attributed it to long plane rides and an active lifestyle.” Not only that, writes the author in this wryly good-natured memoir, but he also had a kind of baseless confidence that, even entering his mid-70s, he was untouchable, full of “the false sense of assurance of someone who’d had a long, uninterrupted run of personal and professional good fortune.” All that comes crashing down early on in his book, when his doctor reads aloud a column of numbers, remarks on a spike in the protein cells, and then calmly announces that he has a malignancy—and worse, multiple myeloma, which can be treated but, so far, not cured. Given a prognosis of five or more years before the Grim Reaper comes knocking, Brokaw looks back on a long career in the news, with a name-dropped cast of characters, a surprising number of whom suffered or have suffered from terrible illness. In that light, the author does not incline to self-pity, taking instead an almost scholarly interest in his disease and approvingly quoting his friend and contemporary Jim Harrison, who remarks, “As I aged, I expected to think about death far more than I do.” Death is a reality here, to be sure, and Brokaw is fascinated by all its trappings, writing of MRIs and blood tests and insufferable doctors (“The Sloan specialist in charge of structural issues was a forty-three-year-old with a big résumé, a brusque style, and apparently not much interest in face-to-face consultation”) and all the rest.
Brokaw’s account lacks the depth and fire of Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality (2013), but it belongs on the same shelf as a wise and oddly comforting look at the toughest news of all.