Life · Reviews

When Breath Becomes Air

I’m back again, as promised. Here is a quick review on a book I have just read.

Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi
Rating: 8/10

I finished reading this book in just two days. I couldn’t put it down which was why I give it such a good rating. It really kept my attention and I wanted to know, “What happens next?!” “Tell me more secrets about medical school.”  “Let me in on more of your private thoughts during a craniotomy…” 

This is a book written by 36 year old, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi who passed away just this March. He wrote a book about his finals months going from a surgical resident (in his last year of residency) to a patient with stage 5 metastatic lung cancer. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to finish the book. It ends abruptly due to his passing, with a little piece at the end written by his wife that made me tear up like crazy.

I don’t know really what I expected of this book (it was an impulse read, I didn’t hear about it from anyone, just stumbled upon it and said, “why not?) but somehow I thought it was going to be different, anyway, it was quite sad and eyeopening.

The book starts with his life as a child, living in Arizona. He starts speaking about how he went back and forth from wanting to pursue a career in literature or nuerosurgery, and how actually came to choosing nuerosurgery. After that, he gets into his time in medical school, interaction with patients, thoughts during surgery, his first time opening a cadaver, ect… (For anyone interested in medical school, I think this book is perfect for a little peek into it.) Sooner after, in his last year of residency, he is diagnosed with lung cancer, and he starts to get into the rollercoaster of life with cancer.

I wanted to discuss two quotes  that really stood out to me after reading this book, 

“I sat, staring at a photo of Lucy and I from medical school, dancing and laughing; it was so sad, those two, planning a life together, unaware, never suspecting their own fragility.”

This book and particular quote made me feel so many feelings. Mainly because, my boyfriend, Chris plans on going to medical school, too. Planning a future with someone who is going to be so pre-occupied with surgeries, and patients, and residency, and studying, and not…. YOU is totally frightening, and lonely. I try not to think about this that much since we are happy now and that is what is most important- but the future is there.. and it’s coming. It truly is scary when I think about it.

This quote really made me think, Wow. Yeah, you really have no idea what the future has in store for us. This doctor was just 35 years old when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Just about to graduate his residency and pictured a long, successful future with his lovely wife and child. You just really have no idea what is going to happen, or when.

Similar to my own father (who I lost 3 years ago) – two months before he passed I celebrated my 18th birthday and never would have imagined I would be walking to retrieve my diploma or take my prom photos without him there just four months later. Or even walking down the aisle without him there! You just seriously have no idea what is going to happen or when.

You might even upload at a photo of you and your best friend to Instagram, laughing over drinks at happy hour, not even knowing that in two weeks you are going to have an explosive argument ending your 6 year friendship.

I’m rambling but, you know what I mean. The future is a huge surprise, and although exciting and full of opportunities, it is scary, as well.

This then leads me right into the next quote that I bookmarked:

“We would carry on living, instead of dying.” 

Yes, the future is scary and daunting at times. But instead of worrying about something you have limited control to, it is best to just live and deal with things as they come.

Whether you have cancer, or lose your boyfriend of two years, or your grandpa passes away, or you fail your class- life goes on. We need to keep trucking or life is going to push us down over and over again.

This reminded me of a little sign my dad had hanging in his ICU room, though a little more vulgar, it basically said that same thing. “When life knocks you down, get back up and say, “You hit like a bitch.” ”




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