French neuroscientist David Servan-Schreiber assumed that anyone picking up his latest and final book, “Not the Last Goodbye,” has one awkward question for him: "So the raspberries and broccoli aren’t enough?”
Servan-Schreiber, the author of the bestselling book, “Anticancer: A New Way of Life,” suffered a relapse and died from brain cancer in July, 19 years after his original diagnosis. He was 51. “Anticancer,” part health guide and part memoir, stressed the use of nutrition, physical exercise,yoga, meditation and stress management to help prevent cancer or cope with it once diagnosed.
Before he died, however, Servan-Schreiber managed to compose a book that he hoped would answer hard questions and serve as a farewell to those who appreciated his previous works. In “Not the Last Goodbye: On Life, Death, Healing & Cancer,” Servan-Schreiber grapples with the elephant in the room: “If David, himself, the living incarnation of this lifestyle, the one who thinks anticancer, eats anticancer, moves anticancer, breathes anticancer, lives anticancer – if even he succumbs to the disease, then what is left of ‘Anticancer’?”
The question forced some soul searching. Ultimately, he found that he didn’t follow his own advice. In at least one regard, “recently, I have not been the ideal embodiment of the anticancer lifestyle,” he wrote.
Servan-Schreiber, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-founder of the school’s Center for Integrative Medicine, kept up an exhaustive work and travel schedule. Friends worried he did too much as he criss-crossed the globe, racing from conference to interview and from one project to another.
“I reassured them saying, ‘You’re right, I’m going to slow down,’” he wrote. “But I never did.”
“In retrospect, my mistake is glaringly obvious,” he wrote. “We must not exhaust and overexert ourselves. One of the best defenses against cancer is finding a place of inner calm. … Personally, I never managed to find that calm, and today I regret it.”
Servan-Schreiber was one clinical case among many, and he said his book was based on scientific research, not his personal experience. There is no miracle cure for cancer, no surgery or chemotherapy that works every time. By the same token, no nutritional program, exercise routine or stress management system can prevent a relapse, he wrote in “Not the Last Goodbye.”
Still, the author and spokesman for “Anticancer” urged doctors to encourage patients to mobilize their natural defenses in the fight against cancer. “All too often patients hear, ‘Do whatever you want to in terms of complementary treatment. It won’t do any harm, but it may not do much good, either,’” he wrote.
“That statement is false, scientifically false,” he wrote. “And it’s everything I have fought against.”
Research has shown that exercise, for example, can help people being treated for cancer cope with the side effects of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, including fatigue and the loss of muscle mass.
Servan-Schreiber, married and the father of three children, died eight weeks after finishing the book at age 51. In the epilogue, his brother Emile Servan-Schreiber reassures readers that he departed peacefully. “Listening to the playlist he had assembled for this purpose, he stepped over to other side, while Daniel Barenboim played the second movement of Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto,” Emile Servan-Schreiber wrote.