A Tale of Two Firebrands

Christopher Hitchens in 2007
Christopher Hitchens in 2007
Russell Means
Russell Means

Two Public Figures Share A Common Fate

Despite the fact that they come from countries and continents separated by a large ocean, Christopher Hitchens and Russell Means share a common dilemma. They both have been recently diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, a potentially fatal ailment that has necessitated sophisticated medical treatment.  Born ten years apart in Great Britain and the United States,  Hitchens and Means have responded to their life-threatening cancers in different ways. In fact, how they have responded to the cancer,  reflects not only on the lands where they dwell, but on their outlook and philosophy towards life.

The Cancer

Esophageal cancer occurs in the esophagus, a long tube that connects the back of your mouth with your stomach. This internal structure is the organ, which transfers food from the back of your mouth to your stomach. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of cancer often occurs where smoking, heavy alcohol use and obesity are present. Treatment and cure for this type of cancer is not always successful, especially when the disease is not diagnosed in its beginning stages.

Hitchens and Means

Even though these two men have derived from differing backgrounds and countries, they have come to represent strong viewpoints that are often at odds with the dominant way of thinking in each country. Russell Means background is Oglala Sioux and he has become a fixture of the American public scene that dates back to the early 70s, when he was part of a highly visible confrontation between American Indians and the US government. Since that time, Russell has been much sought-after as a public speaker, writer and movie actor, who starred in ‘Last of the Mohicans’.

On the other hand, Hitchens grew up as the oldest son of two parents, who served long careers with the British military. As a young man, Mr. Hitchens moved from base to base with his parents before attending a prestigious boarding school and college (Oxford). From his well-educated background Hitchens went on to become a controversial, but widely read author and public speaker. Perhaps the most common traits the two men share is the controversial nature of their public speaking and writing.

Bad News Arrives

Hitchens received his serious diagnosis in 2010, just as he was about to undertake a speaking tour to promote his new book, “Hitch 22”. Since that time Christopher has been forced to cancel many speaking obligations because of his inability to talk. He is also undergoing cancer treatment in Great Britain. For Means, the bad news did not show up until July 2011, when he was diagnosed with an advanced stage of esophagus cancer.  At the time Means said that he would seek Native remedies and that he was prepared to die, if these efforts failed.

Means Does A 180

Despite his original proclamation, Means did seek out professional help from the mainstream American medical community and did receive sophisticated tomo therapy at the Sunridge Medical Wellness Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. As of late September (2011) Means claimed that his tumor is significantly diminished and that he can now swallow and talk. In regards to his big turn around, the noted activist stated “Pete Catches, a strong spiritual Oglala Medicine Man told us in AIM back in the 1970s that there will be times when we have to use the white man to fight his diseases”.

Recent picture of Russell Means
Recent picture of Russell Means

Hitchens Struggles

Unfortunately, the struggle of Christopher Hitchens in his cancer battle has not followed a parallel course. After a prolonged chemotherapy treatment and loss of his gall bladder, Christopher still struggles with daily life and maintaining at least a partial writing schedule. Still, his fight with cancer has drawn much attention and best wishes from around the globe and his occasional appearances on video tape have gained quite a following, plus his new book, “Hitch 22” is selling very well.

Hitchens during cancer in 2010
Hitchens during cancer in 2010

In Conclusion

Hopefully both men will recover from their ordeals and enjoy some more time on the planet, but no matter how well you say it, this type of cancer is difficult to survive.

Russell’s New Challenge

Russell Means in 2007

Inoperable Cancer

It was announced the other day that a great icon of American culture had just been diagnosed with an advanced case of throat cancer. That highly public figure just happens to go by the name of Russell Means. Means who is best known as an American Indian activist and professional actor, was recently diagnosed by the mainstream medical community, as having an inoperable form of throat cancer. In a mover that seems to be right up Russell’s alley, the American Indian activist announced that he fight the cancer using traditional Native American methods of treatment. According to doctors who examined the South Dakota man, he has only several months to live.

Remembering The American Indian Movement

It seems odd that I should be writing this post from Minneapolis, Minnesota, the city where Russell Means, Dennis Banks and a handful of other dedicated activists launched a movement and attitude that vastly improved the conditions of American Indians. Several days ago I even walked down the street that currently supports several Native American culture centers and other similar resources. I am old enough to have remembered well the Indian uprising that came on the heels of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement. Even though I was living in upstate New York at the time, their efforts signaled a new age of toleration and challenges. It was a remarkable time that also saw many other issues, such as environmental action and woman’s rights, come to the national forefront. The Los Angeles Times once labeled Russell Means as the most notable Indian since Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull. More than one admirer has suggested that somehow Means is channeling the spirit of Crazy Horse.


Like many Native American orators that came before Means has had a remarkable way with words. Here are some of his words that definitely stand out, at least in my mind.

“I hate the word Native American. Its a government term, which was created in the year 1970 in the Department of the Interior, a generic term that describes all the prisoners of the United States of America.”

“”Indian policy” has now been brought down upon the American people, and the American people are the new Indians of the 21st Century.”

The one thing I`ve always maintained is that I`m an American Indian. I`m not politically correct. Everyone who`s born in the Western Hemisphere is a Native American. We are all Native Americans.”

“All European tradition, Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things. Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused, and this cannot go on forever. No theory can alter that simple fact. Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That`s revolution.”

Best Wishes

I hope this post does not sound too much like an obituary, for I am hoping than Means beats the odds and survives the doctor’s prognosis. However, if the news reports are true his condition is severe, but I do hope he survives.