December 27, 2018

Book: When Breath Becomes Air

I’ve had When Breath Becomes Air” sitting at our cabin for a while, but decided to pick it up and read it on winter break. The book is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi told in two parts. The first part is his path through medical school and becoming a neurosurgeon, being close to serious illnesses, and dealing with death as a Doctor. The second part is after his cancer diagnosis with stage IV lung cancer, which causes his death within 18 months.

There were two things that struck a chord in me while reading this.

I kept thinking back to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I’m sure it was in part because Kalanithi, like Gawande, is a Doctor. The first part of the book had many references to the Doctor’s perspective when diagnosing a patient with a terminal illness. This book did too. Being Mortal is a very different book, and one that I highly recommend reading, but this touched on similar topics with a more personal perspective.

The other thing about this book was more personal. It reminded me in so many ways of the path of my friend David Hussman, who passed away earlier this year. He had the same diagnosis, stage IV lung cancer. I’m pretty sure he even had the same EGFR mutation and received similar treatments. Similar to Kalanithi, he did remarkably well for a long while after getting treatment. Enough that you could kind of forget a bit. But the cancer is just held back a bit. I was wishing I would have read this book when I got it, as it would have given me some deeper perspective when talking with David.


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