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.
Linnea, Lucy and Diane
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!
2016 began rather inauspiciously at a Great Gatsby themed New Year’s Ball. Held in a gorgeous old church, the night looked very promising. However the venue was poorly heat, the drinks insipid and the music far too loud. My grumpiness just made me feel old–not how I wanted to ring in a new year. We left a few minutes prior to midnight and when home I collapsed on the couch with my laptop. I intended to check a few emails before heading to bed but somehow got sucked into a site with before and after plastic surgery photos. Before too long I was looking at photos of Courtney Love. From bad to worse!
Fortunately I had some solid plans for the following day as I was preparing a meal for seven close friends. I’m still a little rusty when it comes to cooking and entertaining–my time management skills are way off–but I dove right in. When it comes to socializing, dinner parties are my absolute favorite. There is something about a table that is a great equalizer as conversation seems to both flow and include all.
I received a number of wonderful gifts that evening in addition to the company of dear friends. A beautiful centerpiece, a patron saint (never can get enough of those), the promise of some art (again, never enough). And a special gift from my friends Machiko and Koichiro; wrapped in indigo cloth. Tucked inside were two little wooden boxes filled with chocolate candy made by Machiko. Underneath that was another package which when opened revealed an onionskin envelope containing some mat board that had a little window cut in the center with a red tongue of paper attached–it reminded me of the advent calendars of my youth. Koichiro instructed me to open the little window and inside was a perfect, tiny platinum print of one his extraordinary photographs. I was so touched and shared with him that just the day before I had thought to myself that one day I would own a Koichiro Kurita (he is an amazing artist collected worldwide, with a photo in the Tate Museum in London). Now my year was looking up.
This past week I made a point of engaging in all of the activities I wish to focus on in 2016. I roasted a chicken and later made soup; today I will bake some homemade granola. I walked, read, took and edited photos. I opened an instagram account–you can find me under linnoline. I ordered some canvas as I am all set to start painting again (yes!). I wrote (Click here for my latest post for CURE), made plans to get together with some of my lung cancer peeps, and began preparation for my next advocacy venture (DC in March with the American Lung Association). I participated in open studios with my vintage clothing shop–soon I will have an instagram account for that as well. On my to do list–yoga and maybe a gym membership–I’m not going to take this cancer thing lying down.
But back to covers–a highly anticipated book is about to be released–When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Dr. Kalanithi was a young neurosurgeon with a gift for words who sadly contracted lung cancer. In the months after his diagnosis he devoted a great deal of time to working on his autobiography. After Paul passed away his wife Lucy, a physician as well, helped bring his book to completion. She also penned a poignant essay about love and grief for the New York Times that brought me to my knees. It is uncommon to have the perspective of patient and physician in one telling, and although I am certain it is going to be a really difficult book to read, I plan to do so.