Last week, my dear friend, Dr Lee Lipsenthal, passed over. He was just 2 years older than I, and had developed esophageal cancer which was diagnosed in 2009. The prognosis for this disease is abysmal, and the chances of his living as long as he did were only about 5%, but that didn’t make it any easier to get the news last week. I had so hoped to see him again in November, where we were both scheduled to teach at the annual review course for the ABIHM.
Lee was a fabulously complicated man, full of seeming contradictions. After conventional medical training and a residency in internal medicine, he spent the first part of his career working with patients to treat and prevent heart disease, focusing on lifestyle change at a time when this was definitely not the norm. He achieved international recognition for his research work with Dr Dean Ornish. More recently, he was an educator and author. His first book, Finding Balance in a Medical Life, was the basis for countless talks given to medical students, residents and physicians in practice, reminding us why we went into this profession and how to keep things in focus to avoid burnout. He and Nita Gage ran workshops in Hawaii and Italy; Brad and I had the good fortune to attend the Hawaii workshop twice. Both were transformative.
But this view of Lee is just skimming the surface. He was a meditator who loved classic rock and roll; he taught healthy lifestyles and loved a good margarita; he was a gifted shaman and a fabulously good dancer. He was a guiding light to many, and as a friend said, none of us got enough of him yet plenty of him. Lee knew how to listen and truly be with you; I always felt completely heard by him. Because he and I did energy work together, he knew me in ways that no one else has.
It was Lee who asked me to follow him as President of the board of directors of the ABIHM. It was Lee who, because he had such marvelous connections, kept our board afloat during a rough patch. It was Lee I would go to with some concerns that no one else could hear. It was Lee who reminded me to dance and sing and write and follow my passion. He challenged me and pushed me and held me in his light.
As part of his reminding us to live a full life, he would often say “it’s a good day to die”. Our board had a conference call scheduled when he first got diagnosed, literally moments after he got the phone call with his biopsy report. It was a shock. His friends and loved ones got the opportunity to watch him navigate this final journey, and it was amazing to see. He was so completely at peace with dying, and he spent this past year teaching from that perspective.
I am so truly blessed to have had him in my life. The sense of loss is still profound, but many of the memories that float up, unbidden, make me smile as much as tear up. Here’s the best way to have you know Lee: it’s the trailer for his upcoming book, Enjoy Every Sandwich.