“Enjoy Every Sandwich—Living Each Day as If It Were Your Last”
By Lee Lipsenthal, MD (1957-2011)
“Imagine the unthinkable: You’re a well-known prominent physician, you have a loving wife and two beautiful kids, and you’ve made a meaningful difference in the lives of many thousands of people. Your only major unfulfilled desire is to be a rock star, and you’re working on that, too…In a heartbeat, your life is turned upside down: Your doctor just told you that you have metastatic cancer and you probably have less than a year to live.”
So begins the foreword, written by Dr. Dean Ornish, a colleague and friend of author Lipsenthal, whose life was cut short after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer at the age of 52.
This beautiful book, 195 pages of “nuggets” for how to lead a meaningful life, was written in the two years between his diagnosis and death. The title derives from the fact that his discovery of illness occurred one day while he was eating a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich—something he had done hundreds or even thousands of times before. But this time the sandwich got stuck (in his esophagus) and caused him pain.
His fascination with rock music coursing through the book, he refers to singer-player Warren Zevon, who, with death nearing, had been asked how he approached life: “I enjoy every sandwich,” was his answer.
Lipsenthal was someone already well-versed in complementary medicine: Married to a woman (Kathy) he had met in medical school, he lived in the Bay area and served as Medical Director of the Ornish Program for Recovery and Balance.
Written in the first person, the book follows his journey into healing and acceptance—including some of the grittier moments along the way. At various times, he espouses guided meditation, yoga, Jungian psychology, past lives study, shamanic breathwork, etc., all the while utilizing what more allopathic (traditional) medicine has to offer. (If you are a clinician, you know that for esophageal cancer, there is not much in the latter category…)
The pages of “Enjoy Every Sandwich” are filled with many “ultimate” lessons in living—and dying. Lipsenthal models disclosure of his illness to his children, and to his parents; he deals with forging ahead while letting go, and uses his own refrain of “SHIFT and ACTIVATE.”
His ultimate tool for facing death is that of gratitude, which he calls “a small practice with a big payoff.” Ultimately, he writes, “I no longer have a bucket list. I have love in my life. This is far greater than seeing the Pyramids.”
This fine work has something for everyone—reaffirming how to live a richer life right now, or figuring out how to find greater peace and acceptance in the face of illness or, even, impending death. If I were directing the curriculum of any medical school, or health care institution, I would make it mandatory reading—perhaps best taken in while eating a crispy and cool bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.
The line which keeps reverberating the most for me, and resounds anew each time I reread the book (published in 2011), is a quote from Quincy Jones, which Lipsenthal paraphrases at the book’s conclusion.
“Live each day like it’s your last, and one day you’ll be right.”
Book review by:
Mark Katz, MD
Department of Internal Medicine
Kaiser Permanente of West Los Angeles