LOS ANGELES –
About Cathy Seipp
On Monday, her daughter Maia sent the e-mail that Cathy Seipp’s friends and readers have long been dreading. Her mother was in the hospital, her lungs had collapsed, the doctors were trying to make her comfortable, she was passing peacefully. Cathy has been fighting lung cancer, although everyone is quick to point out she wasn’t a smoker. It has been almost five years since they opened her up and closed her again, concluding that the cancer was inoperable and sending her off for chemotherapy, although for the first three and a half years, she never wrote about it, because she “didn’t want to be written off as Lung Cancer Girl.”
That’s Cathy. Smart, funny, tough, loving. You couldn’t help but think as she encouraged Maia to skip senior year in high school and apply to college early for more than the combination of the Canadian tradition of surpassing the12th grade and Maia’s own desire for bigger challenges. It was also Cathy sending her off, getting her settled, making the point that she was entitled to her life.
And so Maia went off to the University of California at San Diego last fall, and Cathy’s friends trouped in from around the world to cook her dinner and take her to chemo. There have been fewer posts lately, and more trips to the hospital, emergencies, bad signs.
Every time the message came in to say there was a new post, I held my breath, hoping it would be Cathy ranting about the friend whose casseroles were too big for the refrigerator, or berating herself for taking issue with Maia’s messiness (she and I exchanged notes about that one, both being mothers of teenage girls), or of course taking on liberals for their failings of insight and imagination.
Cathy was a conservative by choice, not by upbringing, and she delighted in exposing liberals for their elitism and insensitivity. As all her bios boast, she was from the city where the 405 and the 605 meet, and if you don’t know where that is, it’s because Las Alamitos is not Beverly Hills, and Cathy never forgot where she was from. She just couldn’t wait to get away from there. She came after me when I took on the Los Angeles Times for not publishing enough women writers (no preferences for her), but I decided that my mistake, and theirs, was not putting her name at the top of the list of whom they should hire.
Of course, she spent years writing a column in the defunct Buzz magazine on the inside doings at the Times that took no prisoners, so the truth was that the paper wasn’t about to hire her either. She wrote for the National Review, and the International Women’s Forum, and various other entities I tend to avoid, and she wrote her blog, Cathy’s World, www.cathyseipp.journalspace.com.
In October 2005, when she first wrote in her blog about her cancer, Cathy had this to say:
“I’m beginning to feel a responsibility to point out that lung cancer, which kills more people annually (about 163,000) than the next four most common cancers (colon, breast, pancreatic and prostate) combined, is terribly underfunded compared to other diseases: $950 in research money per lung cancer death, compared to $8800 for breast cancer and $34,000 for AIDS.
"That’s because the vast majority of lung cancer (about 85 percent) is still caused by smoking, even though the rate for lifelong nonsmoking women like me (and Christopher Reeve’s widow) has been going up for some mysterious reason, and the general attitude is that smokers deserve whatever they get.
"But half of all lung cancer patients have been nonsmokers by the time of diagnosis, sometimes for decades, like Warren Zevon. If they deserve to get sick, then I suppose so do people who are overweight or don’t exercise or who have promiscuous sex with strangers, all of which are contributing factors for various illnesses that get much more sympathy in the form of research dollars. Maybe the amount of attention we pay to a disease should have less to do with how many celebrities, magazine editors and junk bond kings carry its banner, and more with how many people actually die of it.”
Lung cancer was one of the few subjects we agreed on; I lost my best friend seven years ago, and watched in horror as the money from the tobacco settlements got spent building highways. We also agreed about things like mothering, kids and friendship. As for the rest, we had to agree to disagree. But I was always interested in how Cathy put it, where she came down and how she got there, because I knew she’d be as tough on herself as any critic would be. So I checked in every day to see what she was thinking, until the end. Ours was an old-fashioned relationship, the kind people used to have with people they disagree with, the kind that is too often under attack these days.
It’s too bad we’ll never meet, Cathy wrote to me not long ago, and my heart skipped a beat, but of course I knew what she meant. We e-mailed. She posted. We lived in a new world, by the old rules. It may be the best of both.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was previously Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and was the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System,” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for foxnews.com.