If you haven’t yet read When Breath Becomes air, Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s extraordinary book about his all-too-brief experience with non small cell lung cancer, you should. Once I picked it up I found it difficult to put down.
Part of what makes this book so special is that Paul was a physician–a neurosurgeon–and so perhaps had a leg up on most of us in that he was able to immediately distance himself from the disease with a dispassion that is difficult for a layman. I had to work very hard to not take my own lung cancer personally, but Paul was able to come to a place of acceptance/grace with remarkable speed, and this lends his telling a particular elegant universality.
When Breath Becomes Air was preceded by an essay by Paul in the NYT that garnered a huge response from readers, ultimately leading to a book deal. There was a lot of buzz in the lung cancer community prior to publication of When Breath Becomes Air, in part because some of my friends and peers were personally acquainted with the Kalanithis. Aside from the pre-publication chatter my own introduction to Paul’s book was this touching essay by his wife Lucy, which also appeared in the NYT. I kind of fell in love with Dr. Lucy Kalanithi after reading it and have been hoping for some time that I would have the opportunity to meet her.
Well a couple of weeks ago I got my chance, as the Harvard Book Store sponsored a conversation between Lucy and Neel Shah, an assistant medical professor at Harvard Medical School. The venue was the Cambridge Public Library and my friend Diane and I (in true fangirl fashion) got there super early with seats front and center. Better yet, before the event started I had returned to the lobby in order to refresh my parking ticket just as Lucy was arriving. She recognized me from social media and came right up to say hello and gave me a great big hug. Now I was smitten.
Once the event got under way, Lucy read some passages from the book, conversed with Neel for a bit and then took questions from the audience—many of whom were medical students. Some of the questions were of a truly diffuclt nature, yet Lucy was unfailingly warm, patient and kind. Afterward a long line formed for autographed copies of the book, and Lucy took her time with each and every person. A physician herself, I can only imagine that she brings the same care to her practice.
Read the book, and better yet, if Lucy Kalanithi comes to your town, go!
Thank you, Linnea, for the reminder…….I bought this book months ago, but it has been sitting on a shelf waiting for me to find time to read it. It is now on my pillow waiting for me to begin reading it tonight. Both Paul and Lucy are a remarkable gift to the world. Hugs, Kate
Paul and Lucy are indeed wonderful gifts to the world. The book is hard but good—and you will be glad that you have read it.
I found you through a RT of Lucy’s whom I follow after reading When Breathe Becomes Air. Ironically I bought the book to read and soon after I found out my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I didn’t pick up the book until two weeks later. I’m so glad I’ve read the book. Puts everything into perspective. My brother is onto his last round of chemotherapy next week. It’s been 4months since we found out. It’s been so hard, but he’s taking it all in stride. Thank you for sharing your blog, your life with all of us. Best to you!
Glenda, Thank you and I’m glad you found the book helpful. And I wish the best of luck to your brother!