January 2012

‘Carpe diem’ from a terminal voice

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Lee Lipsenthal’s life changed in one bite. The medical director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, his life’s work had been helping others work through their fears about death and live more joyfully. In July 2009, when a bite of BLT caused him abnormal discomfort, he already suspected the worst. Diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Lipsenthal found that everything he had taught others paid dividends when he needed them most: He was not afraid to die. Enjoy Every Sandwich shares what he learned along the way and commemorates his life, which ended in September 2011.

Making peace with death didn’t make life a picnic. His wife Kathy was angry at his apparent willingness to “give up,” and his children—and parents—were devastated. There were certainly hard days. But Lipsenthal kept his focus on what he could do, and used the same techniques he promoted in his job—meditation, gratitude, humor—to guide his path. His family and friends, including one pal who made hilariously convoluted plans to score him an introduction to Sir Paul McCartney, prompted him to observe, “I no longer have a bucket list. I have love in my life.”

The book’s title comes from an exchange between the late musician Warren Zevon and David Letterman, during a final interview when it was clear Zevon would not survive his own cancer diagnosis. It’s a lovely message, and it’s hard to read Enjoy Every Sandwich without coming to like Lipsenthal a lot, and grieving the loss of someone who helped so many. How sweet, then, that the book exists to make his legacy available to us all.

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