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Spend Your Life Learning How to Live

I met George Sheehan, a noted cardiologist as well as a legendary runner and writer about running, in August of 1986. I had been designated to pick him up at the airport in Aspen, Colorado, late the night before he was to speak at a conference that I was managing. We hit it off immediately.

That first meeting, I learned several months later, happened to fall only a few days after he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

George went on to become a mentor and friend, someone with whom I laughed a lot. He was a driving force in the creation of the Osler Symposia–programs whose goal is the wellbeing of physicians and nurses–my life’s work, since the year I met George. We stayed in touch from that first meeting until shortly before his death seven years later, in November of 1993. 

I have thought of him often since then, and I did so again when I read that “Prostate Blues” is the “More Voices” theme for this month. That reflection impelled me to pull his last book from my shelf. He was a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, and his final one was a posthumous memoir titled Going the Distance: One Man’s Journey to the End of his Life. In his introduction to the volume, the noted sports journalist Robert Lipsyte wrote about George’s effort to “teach us to ‘spend your life learning how to live.'”

“He was still learning that the last time I saw him, four months before he died,” Lipsyte mused. “It was a day of gorgeous life, the sun splashing off the ocean and the beach, filling his living room. Beneath the windows, joggers huffed by. How many of them had he set on the road? He wasn’t interested in dwelling on the past, or on other people’s ambitions.

“‘I have come to believe,’ [George] said, with a hint of edge, ‘that you shouldn’t write about the marathon unless you’ve run it and you shouldn’t write about cancer unless you’ve got it. And you shouldn’t write about death unless you’re dying. Now, this book I’m doing, it’s going to be good. But the epilogue is going to be a problem.

“No problem on the epilogue, George,” Lipsyte concluded. “We are your epilogue.”

Thank you for prompting me to think about George. It’s always a good day when I do.
Janice Mancuso
Oceanside, California



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