I’ve just finished a book that I wanted to read since the day it was released, When Breath Becomes Air, by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It is a posthumous work. Paul started the book when he was already with an advanced lung cancer. The diagnosis, as he explains in his book, for this type of cancer is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, terminal.
The work is extremely poetic, with words of intense sweetness, and I think this is due to the fact that Paul, before studying medicine, graduated in literature from Stanford University.
Reading it, I began to imagine the weight of being a doctor and suddenly to become a patient. The condition of a sick layman is more comfortable because he carries the hope of the unknown, an exit, a miracle, after all, ignorance, in such cases, can be a blessing. But when are you a doctor? The knowledge of all statistics and all existing treatments becomes a burden.
The work is about Paul’s story, how he became a doctor, his years of study, but also about how to face what lies ahead, about not giving up, about continuing to laugh and creating good memories – Paul and his wife Lucy had a little girl in the process – after all we are what we will leave, we are what we will be remembered for. We can face death with denial and fury and let it take care of the last days of our lives, or we can see it as a warning “make the most of it”, leave your mark and, above all, care for those around you, Their suffering will continue for long years after your departure.
An emotional work (I cried several times) and essential. The terminal does not need to be the end, it is possible to continue living in the good memories, in the advice given, in shared laughter and, above all, in irradiated love.
A lecture by Lucy Kalanithi, Paul’s wife, at TED