To my readers,
In 1996, when I was 36 years old, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer that had recently killed Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. Though asymptomatic at the time, I carried most signs of full-blown disease, which gave me a very brief survival prognosis. After nearly dying from an experimental treatment, I—with the blessing of my father, the inspiration for Dr. Tom Cage—withdrew from the medical system and continued my writing career, while keeping my illness completely secret. This way of life carried with it tremendous anxiety, but right or wrong, I saw no real alternative, and ultimately it worked for me—at least for a time. Against all odds, I became one of the luckiest patients alive, and survived more than twenty years with a “smoldering” form of the cancer, without terminal progression. During these years I watched the illness take people like Geraldine Ferraro, Roy Scheider, and more recently, Colin Powell and comedian Norm McDonald.
Two years ago, however, my extraordinary run of luck ran out, and my myeloma “switched on.” I nearly died before I was even aware that the disease had reawakened. Thankfully, despite myeloma still being classed as incurable, treatments have improved greatly over the intervening years. Because I was deep in the writing of Southern Man when this happened, I made a decision to complete that novel before pursuing my chosen form of treatment—stem cell transplant. As one might guess, this took longer than I’d hoped, given that I was being treated conventionally throughout the writing. This should explain the multiple postponements of the release that generated so many emails and which I was unable to answer candidly at the time. At long last, however, I have completed the novel, and we have a firm publication date. I have chosen this time to go public about my situation because two years of ongoing treatment have made it impossible to maintain my privacy any longer. I will be getting my transplant prior to publication, and my publisher and I will keep you apprised of my progress during my recovery.
You might be interested to learn that as I wrote Southern Man, the connection that always existed between Penn Cage and myself became even deeper, to the point that Penn took on my own secret struggle with mortality, along with the existential and political themes of this novel. Hopefully, Southern Man is a richer book because of it.
I know many of you will want to reach out and offer prayers and well-wishes, and even your own or relatives’ experiences with myeloma. Please be assured I am receiving excellent treatment, and at this time I won’t be able to answer large numbers of emails, but I’ll do my best to read them as I focus on my recovery. One thing this experience has taught me is that there is nothing unique about my situation. Many, many people are struggling with similar ailments, and I wish for them all the best possible outcomes.
This journey is far from over. My last thought for today is that only two things matter: family and friends.