Neurosurgeon memoir illuminates the journey through cancer treatment and acceptance of mortality



Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who had just completed his residency at the Stanford (Calif.) University, died of metastatic lung cancer last year, but he left a memoir of his experiences as a physician, a patient, and a dying man that was published on Jan. 12. His book, “When Breath Becomes Air” (New York: Random House, 2016), recounts the many years of working to exhaustion and deferring of life experiences and pleasures that are necessary to complete medical training.


In a review of the book, Janet Maslin wrote, “One of the most poignant things about Dr. Kalanithi’s story is that he had postponed learning how to live while pursuing his career in neurosurgery. By the time he was ready to enjoy a life outside the operating room, what he needed to learn was how to die.”

Dr. Kalanithi reflected on the profound grief and sense of loss that comes with a diagnosis that he knew meant imminent death. The memoir also reveals his search for meaning and joy, and finally, his acceptance of mortality. He opted for palliative care and his memoir, along with the epilogue written by his wife, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, gives insight into the value of the palliative path to patients and their families in dire medical crises.

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