When Self-Help Means Less Help by Raymond C. Barfield

Learning to Live as If You’ll Die One Day

When I was kid, I thought that part of growing up would mean that I would get to make decisions on my own, without having a bunch of grownups telling me what I should do. I was wrong. The older we get, the more advice we get from doctors, self-help books, personal trainers, advertisers, and well-meaning vegetarian friends. I have probably retained too much of my childhood views of growing up, and I tend to resist advice. For example, at the risk of beginning this review with too much information, I feel compelled to confess that I am a fifty-three-year-old oncologist who has not had a colonoscopy. Some people—my doctor, for example—are not satisfied with busyness as a reason for me not to get the exam, but I can generate other rational reasons for my failure. I was told to get the exam when I turned fifty, and then to have it every ten years. The lifetime risk of colon cancer in men is roughly 4.5 percent. The median age at diagnosis is roughly sixty-five. This means the odds are in my favour. The exam probably would have been negative at fifty. Since I would not have had the exam again anyway for another ten years, maybe I can wait until I am sixty for my first colonoscopy. And by then, they might have an app for that. When I started reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, I realized that I was not alone in my small, private rebellion against some of my doctor’s opinions about how to be a happier, healthier, more productive version of myself.