At the age of 53, award-winning journalist Leroy Sievers has lost his battle with cancer. While most of you probably know him from his amazing work on Nightline with Ted Koppel, it is the work he did starting in 2006 for NPR that I would like to look at.
He began his public conversation about the disease by saying, “Death and I are hardly strangers” in a that aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in early 2006. It was a reference to his quarter-century as a journalist during which he covered more than a dozen wars for CBS and ABC news. His radio commentaries evolved into a regular series about his life that he called “cancer world.” The project grew to include a daily blog and a weekly podcast.
“Leroy gave voice to a topic that we are very uncomfortable with — death and dying,” Ellen McDonnell, NPR’s morning programming director said in a statement.
As he shared with the world an inside view of fighting terminal illness, he also pointed the way to the future in the way he chose to do so. By combining traditional broadcast with blogging and podcasting, he was able to reach out across the nation not only to fellow cancer patients, but to the populace at large.
Having direct experience in Iraq, Kososvo, Central America, and Somalia among other blood-drenched trouble spots, death was indeed “no stranger,” although a much more lingering house guest than he may have expected. It was this greatest battle that he chose to share with us via the medium of radio — NPR’s Morning Edition to be precise.
Via Shomial Ahmad at NPR:
As he began chemotherapy treatments, Sievers detailed his experiences on NPR’s Morning Edition, in a commentary that aired Feb. 16, 2006.
Ellen McDonnell, NPR’s morning-programming director, recalls listening to that first commentary, and she remembers how the rawness and transparency of Sievers’ words struck a chord with listeners — those battling cancer, and others as well.
Several months after the first commentary came a second, and then a regular series chronicling Sievers’ life in what he called “Cancer World.”
Eventually, under the title “My Cancer,” the project would become a multimedia conversation that included a daily blog, a weekly podcast and — most important to Sievers — a community.
From frank sharing of the simple things — the uncomfortable silences in conversation that come with cancer, a desire to live long enough to read the final Harry Potter book, and more — Sievers gave the world a window into what it is like to not only fight for your life against illness, but also into all of the ways that such an illness affects all aspects of day to day existence. By grounding it in the normally mundane details of existence, he opened up room for actual conversation.
Terminal illness often makes one feel outside of normal life, separated by rebellious bodily functions and deterioration from the lighter hearted day to day life of those around you. Sievers provided a forum on which people could talk about their feelings, fears, hopes, and the daily tribulations that chronic illness brings.
[…] many reporters asked Sievers variations on one basic question: “What do you get out of writing the blog?”
He concluded one My Cancer post with an answer: “A daily reminder that none of us walks this road alone. What could be better than that?”
Indeed. What could be better? All trials are easier with some company. Leroy, we will miss your company and your insight. Broadcast media as a whole will be lessened by your departure.