No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality by Michael J. Fox

Lori Gottlieb "maybe you should talk to someone" review
Kimberly Bliss
Kimberly Bliss Culture Desk Editor
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“There is no way to put a shine on my circumstance, as I have so many times in the past, publicly and privately. Positivism is a state of mind one achieves, and I am presently an underachiever.”                                                                                                   –  Michael J. Fox ,, No Time Like the Future ”

In 1991, Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease at just 29 years old. Fox, a beloved actor from the 1980s hit sitcom, Family Ties, and star in the eternally popular Back to the Future movie series, has been the public face of Parkinson’s Disease ever since. In an effort to use that “face” for good, he even created his own foundation to raise awareness and funding for the condition. In 2022 he was awarded an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the decades long advocacy and research of his foundation.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has raised over a billion dollars for research, and his foundation recently announced a breakthrough in biomarker research, and in May 2023 a new documentary about his life, STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie, will be released (Apple TV+).  

No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality is Fox’s fourth memoir and was published in 2020. While his previous memoirs covered living with and treating Parkinson’s, this book is something a little different. Fox is older and more circumspect. With wit and humor, Fox confronts not just Parkinson’s Disease (PD), but other major health issues that may not be directly linked to PD. We see the battle raging, not just in his physical health, but in his ability to stay positive through it all. Fox is nothing if not an optimist, and he must confront the possibility that even his optimism may have run its course.  

In the opening chapter, Michael J. Fox falls. The timing couldn’t be worse. As we learn in subsequent chapters, the year before he falls, Fox had discovered that his  benign ependymoma tumor on his spinal cord had grown. This was not related to his Parkinson’s Disease. Fox’s doctors had been keeping an eye on it over the years, after discovering it during an MRI assessing his neurofibromyalgia. So long as it was dormant the risks outweighed any possible outcome. Then it grew faster than expected and compressed his spinal cord, and had a slight bleed; doing nothing was no longer an option for Fox. If he didn’t have the tumor removed his prognosis was paralysis.

However, absolutely no one wanted to operate.  

“I think about how and why I got here. I had been given a choice: Do I have this surgery, or decline and hope for the best? Either choice would have consequences. It all came down to my capacity for risk… One man’s passivity is another man’s resignation. I had to take the chance.” 

It appeared no doctor would be willing to take the same risk Fox was,until he found a surgeon at Johns Hopkins University. The surgery was dangerous, since it was on his spinal cord. A tumor on his spinal cord could paralyze him, but so could any imperfect cut that damaged it in the process of removing the tumor. The decision to operate was not an easy one, and the recovery involved an intense rehab that he says he could not have completed without the support of his family and friends. The recovery was arduous and painful, and towards the end, after months of rehab, he had persuaded his family to give him a little independence, which, many pages later, brings us back to the opening scene. 

Alone, and in his Manhattan apartment, Fox takes a fall. After the reader sees everything Fox went through to recover from the surgery on the tumor, it is devastating. It will impede his recovery. It is the kind of setback that kills any sense of optimism, even if it is this very optimism which has carried you all these years. Recovering from his fall would also be a recovery from a sense of optimism that has been pushed past its limits.

Michael J. Fox is an engaging storyteller, with humor that is both self-deprecating and entertaining. At one point, he casually name drops Keith Richards at a New Year’s Eve party in Turks and Caicos. It’s not all surgery, rehab, and life-threatening illness in these pages! He also speaks on the simple things in life he took for granted before, like the simple act of walking and the loneliness of having strangers push your wheelchair.

It is not necessary to be familiar with or even like him as an actor. While he touches upon his professional life, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality is not about the actor with PD. In fact, if you want to really know what it was like being diagnosed with early-onset PD, and what his medical care looked like, his earlier memoirs would be a better fit for you. 

Fox’s memoir is about a man who, when faced with multiple health issues, must confront the possibility that optimism is much like mortality itself, a finite line. Fox does not shy away from describing his challenges, or his privileges for that matter. Anyone who has PD, or any long-term health concerns, will find this book inspiring. For Fox, hope is something that works like a muscle, you exercise it to grow it. Fox’s hope might as well be Olympian. 

No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality is an intimate look at the painful consequences of mortality, and the risk of losing hope in our darkest moments, and sometimes finding an optimist rediscovering his strength.    

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