The Last Lecture – How to Live Your Childhood Dreams

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

Nightline aired The Last Lecture: A Love Story For Your Life last night on ABC. For those who may have missed it, Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Professor, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. Less than a year later, the cancer metastasized to his liver and spleen, and he was given six months to live. In September 2007, Pausch said goodbye to Carnegie Mellon and his students with a Journeys Lecture called “How to Live Your Childhood Dreams”. In it, he discussed his life’s journey and the lessons he has learned. Journeys are a Carnegie Mellon lecture series in which faculty members share their reflections on everyday actions, decisions, challenges and joys that make up their lives.

Pausch’s lecture has since made its way to the web and has been viewed by millions of people. Hyperion published a book this week, The Last Lecture, based on his talk.

Pausch writes frequently on his battle with pancreatic cancer. In an interview with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, Pausch said [1]:

I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.
You know, life is a gift. Again, it sounds trite, but if you wait long enough, other people will show you their good side. If there’s anything I’ve [learned] that is absolutely true. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than you might like. But the onus is on you to keep the hope and keep waiting.

His talk is inspiring, heartbreaking and filled with the wisdom and clarity that can only come from being so close to death.

There is no method for early detection of pancreatic cancer. The disease is asymptomatic and only 7% of cases are diagnosed early [2]. Symptoms may include weight loss, abdominal discomfort, occasional glucose intolerance and, as in the case of Pausch, jaundice (caused by tumors that develop near the common bile duct and cause blockage). Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease, and the 1- and 5- year survival rates are quite low at 24% and 5%, respectively [2].

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), the first national patient advocacy organization for the pancreatic cancer community, provides public and professional education embracing the urgent need for more research, effective treatments, prevention programs and early detection methods. PanCAN also provides patient services and funds grants for pancreatic cancer research.

UPDATE: July 25th, 2008

Dr. Randy Pausch passed away due to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008.


  1. Dying Professor’s Lecture of a Lifetime. ABC News, Good Morning America. 2008 Mar 21.
  2. Cancer Facts & Figures 2008. American Cancer Society. Atlanta, Ga. 2008.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.