When Dr. Lee Lipsenthal was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in July 2009, he decided to write his thoughts about healing the fear of death. In his touching book, Enjoy Every Sandwich: Living Each Day As If It Were Your Last, Lipsenthal shared his journey of transcending his fear. His hope was that it would “open the door for all of us to embrace our humanity, accept uncertainty, and live a life of gratitude whether we are facing the end now or not.”
The book title was inspired by singer and songwriter Warren Zevon, who died of cancer in 2003. During a guest appearance on the David Letterman show, Zevon explained that in the process of dying, he learned to enjoy every sandwich. That statement struck Lipsenthal as simple and profound and he used it in his talks about life balance.
An internist trained in the prevention of heart disease, Lipsenthal was the medical director of Dean Ornish’s Preventive Medicine Research Institute for a decade. He meditated everyday for the last twenty years and practiced gratitude by writing down things he was grateful for every night. Gratitude helps keep life fluid.
After receiving his diagnosis, his first thought was how to break the news to his wife, Kathy, also a physician, and their two teenage children. At the same time, despite knowing his life would never be the same, he felt an unexpected sense of calm acceptance. Lipsenthal’s upbeat, quest for understanding life as he faced death doesn’t dwell on his cancer symptoms, but instead focuses on gratitude for savoring this “sandwich of life.”
Lipsenthal is a wonderful storyteller and starts his book with the amazing story of how he dreamed of his wife before they met 30 years ago. Their sweet story of a medical school courtship stayed with me long after I finished the book and made the outcome even more poignant. Lipsenthal died on September 20, 2011.
There is a hypnotic quality to his writing as he describes his transformation from living a life of stress and fear to letting go of control and accepting the mystery of life. He writes with a clarity that makes the complex subjects of Shamanic Breathwork, Neuroimagination and understanding the shadow side of ourselves accessible to the reader.
As Lipsenthal deals with his chemotherapy, he shares a meditation exercise that helps lessen his experience of pain and suffering. He explores the need to feel that we have control over our lives and how liberating it can be to accept that we have none. This attitude can help decrease our fear of death, the ultimate unknown.
He reminds us that we get to choose the world we want to live in—a house of fear and constriction or a house of mystery and creativity. He recommends we just live life, do our best, and enjoy the moments that life brings. Lipsenthal didn’t fight his cancer. He truly lived with it and was at peace with the journey. What a gift we lost.
You can watch the poignant book trailer to get a sense of this remarkable man and his family.