Men make plans; God laughs.

This post isn’t about law schools, big law firms, or even the legal profession. Rather, it begins a new series that will end — well, I’m not sure when it will end — but I have a pretty good idea how it will end. A few days ago, I received an unfortunate diagnosis: pancreatic cancer.

For my entire life, I’ve been a healthy person. Never overweight (5’6″, 140-145 lbs.); never smoked; one or two glasses of wine per week; annual physical exams; regular exercise regimen for the past 20 years. The diagnosis is the culmination of a startling turn of events that began shortly after my January 24 keynote address at the DuPage County Bar Association’s Annual Mega-Meeting. The following day, I was still tired. Ten minutes into my usual 30-minute workout on my elliptical trainer, I was totally out of gas. For the remainder of the day, I rested.

On Monday, I felt better as I prepared for my Tuesday morning undergraduate course –  “American Lawyers – Demystifying the Profession” – at Northwestern University’s undergraduate campus in Evanston. The next day, I made it through the 90-minute session, but fatigue persisted.

By Wednesday morning, I felt bad enough to contact my doctor (“primary care physician” or “PCP”. We’ll be taking a deeper look into medical system as I proceed, so defined terms will become important). I told him that I had a major appearance scheduled for Friday in San Francisco. After describing my symptoms (including bowel movements that were, shall we say, indicative of a potential problem), he suggested blood tests.

I drove to downtown Chicago and began the half-mile walk from the Millennium Park garage to his office. One block into the trek, I knew I was in trouble — light-headed, weak, unsteady. (If I had disclosed my condition to my wife, she would have driven me. But I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy.) I made it to the doctor’s waiting room, provided enough blood to perform complete tests, and then, after sitting for several minutes back in the lobby as I regained strength, walked back to my car.

Once home, I packed for San Francisco. My wife and I were looking forward to the brief trip involving my USF symposium appearance and a visit with our daughter living in the Bay Area.

At 4:30 pm on Wednesday, January 28, the phone rang. At the other end of the line was my doctor.

“You have to cancel your trip,” he said. “The only place you’re going is to the emergency room. I just received your blood tests.”

My life would never be the same.

27 thoughts on “WE INTERRUPT THIS BLOG…

  1. Wow. I am so sorry to hear that. I only began following your blog about 1 year ago but found it so refreshing and on point. We are about the same age. I practiced in Toronto for 5 years and then moved to Nova Scotia – so while it may seem far away, your material still clearly strikes a nerve even here! Please know that my – and many others’ — thoughts are with you. Your courage has been much needed and appreciated. Jason Gavras

  2. Dear Steve,
    You have made an incredible impact on our family. I am one of your fans from the beginning. We are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing such personal news. You have taught many of us a great deal before today. I hope you are willing to continue sharing about your personal challenges, since there is so much more we can learn from you now. All the best.

  4. …this is a tough one, life is intensely into the moments. Everything becomes translation and from my family to yours, we wish you only the best that life can offer and perhaps a recovery from this fated trap.
    Bruce E. Woych

  5. Dear Professor Harper,
    As a regular reader of your blogs, and an admirer of your efforts to bring reform to the legal profession, I am saddened to hear of your illness. Your work is a valuable contribution to the profession, especially in legal ethics that is needed. My best wishes to you and hopes that medical treatment will help you.

    Joan Crosby Tibbetts

  6. I’m so sorry you got such terrible news. I have followed your blog for months now, and thoroughly enjoy reading it. Thank you for your insight, words of wisdom, laughter, and practical advice. As a young lawyer with a lot more to learn, your blog inspires, teaches and makes me keep plugging even on the worst day. I look forward to each blog. It always makes me smile.

  7. I am so sorry for your diagnosis. Leave law alone for awhile, and focus on what is most important — life and family. If more in the legal profession did so, perhaps the name of your blog would be different. Best to you.

  8. So sorry to hear this news. I have been enjoying your blog for some time and I wish you all the best. I hope you make a strong recovery and continue to live a happy and prosperous life for a long, long time. My thoughts are with you and your family.


    Tasneem Dohadwala

  9. Steve – You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I’ve followed your work, which I’ve found insightful, witty, and uncomfortable (in a good way — making people confront hard truths). I’m very sorry to hear your news and wish you all the best. I wanted to post here, not because what I think means anything in the grand scheme of things, but to let you know that you’ve got a lot of readers out there, probably mostly lurkers, who are thinking of you.

  10. I am sorry to hear of your diagnosis, Mr. Harper. I am grateful that you and others – such as Paul Campos, Brian Tamanaha, and David Segal of the New York Times – brought attention to the fact that law school is a losing proposition for many, if not most, students. Thank you for your contributions, and I hope that you somehow triumph over this disease.

  11. I’m saddened to learn of your health challenge. However, I’m confident that the same vigor and rigor with which you investigated the perfidy of law schools will serve you well as you investigate ways to reverse and overcome this ailment. That, combined with the overwhelming goodwill of your readers should propel you to a path to recovery. At least, that’s the fervent hope of this reader, who has gotten much from following you.

  12. Steven, I wish you well with what must be a difficult diagnosis. You have made a huge contribution to the legal profession and, perhaps, to the future of legal education. I hope that you can continue to make further contributions because, frankly, your voice is needed.

  13. Feeling totally helpless right now. Grateful for getting to know you through reading your superb blog. Admirer of your intellect, compassion and wisdom. Yet without words that could possibly help. Hoping for the best, of course. Grace and peace to you.

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