For most people with three children under six, that death sentence would have killed all optimism. But in his talk, the distinguished professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design touched only briefly on his achievements, most notably as founder of the Alice Project, which lets young students tell their stories in three dimensions (it’s named for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland).
Pausch acknowledged his disease but refused to dwell on it. Instead, he delivered a stunningly upbeat, joke-filled lecture about the importance of achieving your childhood dreams, managing time, and, above all, loving every minute of life.
Millions have watched his lecture on the Web or television. Now Pausch has written a new book, The Last Lecture, which expands on those thoughts (see our excerpt, page 197). In a revealing interview with Reader’s Digest in mid-February, while he was still feeling well, Pausch talked about that book, his three kids-Dylan, Logan, and Chloe-and his unflagging spirit.
RD: On August 15, 2007, your doctors told you that you had three to six months to live. Six months later, you’re still here. How are you feeling?
Pausch: Quite good, thanks. I’ve lived a year and a half after my original diagnosis. In the world of pancreatic cancer, that makes me a rock star.
RD: What about the ten tumors you have?
Pausch: My doctors and I have managed to keep them the same size for six months. That’s not unheard-of, but it’s lucky.
RD: “Managed” tells me that “lucky” isn’t the only explanation. You are, after all, a scientist-a believer in experimentation.
Pausch: Right. I started with surgery, then I went to Houston for a brutal protocol of chemotherapy and daily radiation. I was part of a clinical trial at M. D. Anderson that was based on work done at Virginia Mason in Seattle. By the end, I could barely walk.
RD: So what’s the revised prognosis?
Pausch: About a month ago, the new treatment started to fail. I am, not metaphorically, living on borrowed time. Success is measured in months for me. When my health fails, it will fail quickly. Tumors grow on an exponential curve.
RD: Do you have a “typical day”?
Pausch: Not anymore. I have three small children. I play with them as much as I can. Chemo days make me tired, though it’s hard to say that’s because of the chemo when you have kids who have inherited their dad’s usual energy level. Right now, me walking at sea level is like you walking at 5,000 feet. But that’s a small price to pay.
RD: What have you told the kids?
Pausch: Nothing. The experts have been vehement about this point: Until I’m very ill, not a word. We’ve been told, “Adults can’t handle that you look great and will die soon-how can kids?” But this cancer isn’t a pretty way to go. Eventually I’ll get jaundiced, and then it will be apparent to my oldest child [Dylan]. My two youngest children [Logan and Chloe] won’t understand. But there’s no dancing around the fact that Daddy’s going. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to minimize that.