An Open Letter to Chuck Palahniuk

Your books got me through a health crisis and inspired me to follow a dream.

Hi, Chuck,

When I was 18, I missed an appearance of yours at Spokane’s Auntie’s Bookstore by one day. I had to leave for home for medical reasons.

In 2014, I missed your reading at Skidmore. I had plans through Northshire Bookstore to see you in Saratoga, but chemotherapy had drained me of what little energy Crohn’s and the Big C hadn’t already taken.


A battery of tests and a few biopsies later, doctors told me I had three years to live.

After some hospitalizations and more medications and treatments than I can remember, I sat in Albany Medical Center, Room E516, Bed B, hearing my doctor give me a choice: surgery or three months.

I am Jack’s Dustin’s colon… I get cancer, I kill Dustin.

Needless to say, I chose surgery. (A total proctocolectomy with a j-pouch.)

Between that surgery and the next, a complication brought me to the ICU. I was given three days.

The number three still haunts me.

Before attempting one last medication, my doctor told me to say my good-byes.

There’s a lot of negative to dwell on from those days/weeks/months, but what I find my mind drifting toward is perhaps the reason I’m still here, and it’s in direct relation to you. As you, sir, Chuck “Polonic” Palahniuk, are a creator of worlds that allowed me to escape from my own.

GettyImages-86470393Chuck Palahniuk / Getty Images

If it weren’t for Snuff, I wouldn’t have written my first novel, Drowning W/out Water. For your work along with the works of Stahl, Gifford, Selby, Ellis have helped me heal. Your words, your worlds, your characters inspired me, talked to me and told me instead of sleeping the day away to write and create something.

Snuff - Chuck PalahniukCourtesy of Arturo Delgado

My day-by-day living agreement with myself became Don’t die young, and produce a work worth dying for.

In September 2014, I was once again in the hospital and received the news I’d been anticipating. Without proper treatment, I had one year left. This was right on the heels of losing a fiancée, a lovely woman with a great caboose and life plans far loftier than my own.

I read Snuff again and decided I needed to overhaul Drowning into what I had wanted it to be, what I was too afraid to let it be. Perhaps even what I was too ashamed to let it be.

When I became aware that it was December 2015, three months beyond the year I was given to live, it was a rebirth of my own individuality, who I was to become, who I am and will remain until the day comes when honesty to oneself, myownself, ends with biological death. The one of three stages (sociological, psychological, and biological) yet to achieve its goal.

One of my foster brothers read my manuscript and suggested I make one last rewrite. For a month he slept on my couch and helped me break down the mental barrier between myself and my past — my childhood in a foster home, teen years riding BMX and running from the police, sex and pill addiction, civilian work with the military — and helped me unpack the story.

While I find myself with these health issues that seem to escalate daily, I trade worry for your work and my obsession to create something.

Whatever I’ve lost, I let that be. Got to, or I’m already dead. In my darkest times in the hospital’s sterile, ob/noxious medicated death, I was able to not only live but understand and express. Without you and your works, I wouldn’t have traveled from my bed, accepted my situation and written something I believe is beautiful.

GettyImages-82608910Getty Images

What I came away with is not just a different approach to life and living, and death and dying, but something much more intimate. I hope that someday someone will find in my work what I found in yours. And hopefully I’ll be around to bear witness to any writers who read my work and find the will to fight through and create something.

If ever you want to read Drowning W/out Water, please let me know. I couldn’t imagine a better day than when your eyes are on my words. Thank you for teaching me that the most powerful thing I can write is what scares me to write. Until that day, if it comes, I continue fighting and writing because a wise man who wrote about “structured chaos” and planned obsolescence left me with this: “We look forward to getting you back.”

With love and respect,

Dustin LaValley end


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