Following God One Step at a Time

A Survivor Reflects

on June 3, 2016

I am a cancer survivor.  This is my book review of “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi MD, who died of cancer at the age of 37.

Kalanithi,Paul MD

Paul Kalanithi was a good Doctor.  He was not only a very skilled neurosurgeon, but he cared about his patients.  He did everything he could, to make sure his patients had the best outcome from treatment.  How do I know this? I know this from reading his book, “When Breath Becomes Air”, which he wrote while dying of cancer.

I read this book to see if the author had similar feelings facing death from cancer as I did.  He did.  The main difference was I survived cancer, and he died. 

I found this book to be sad, just as you would expect from a book written by a dying man.  I also found this book an acknowledgement of what people deal with when they face fighting possibly terminal cancer.

But best of all, this book is an inspiration and encouragement. 

I am inspired by the fact that he wrote this book while dying.  It was important to him to share what he knew as a doctor, as a husband, and as a terminal cancer patient.  He used precious time to write this book, even though he had little time left.  If you read the book, maybe you will get the inspiration and encouragement to become a good doctor.  Or maybe you will be inspired to enjoy your life more, and be more thankful for what you have.  Or maybe you will be encouraged to go to college to become a scientist.  Reading this book, you will probably be inspired and encouraged to do something good.

Because he took the time while dying to write this book, it is only right that everyone take the time to read this book. 

 I know that not everyone will read this book.  It would be perfect if everyone would read it, but we can never be perfect.  We can only try to reach it.  I think Dr. Kalanithi would understand this, because it is the kind of thinking he writes about in his book.

Author Quote – “You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote (as close as possible)toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

To be honest, the first half of the book was not that interesting to me.  It is mostly about his education, his medical training, and his work. I’m sure many people will find that interesting.  However, I did very much enjoy the last half of the book, which was more about how he lived with cancer.  That is where the real value of this book is found! 

Dr. Kalanithi was an unusual man.  He had several degrees and several different careers to choose from.  He was trained to be a writer.  He was trained to be a scientist.  He was trained to be a doctor.  He chose to be all three and pack them into one short life.  He also was a philosopher.  He wanted to learn about the emotional side of dying.  He already knew what to expect physically, because of his medical training.  He tries in this book, to teach us about the emotions of dying.  I think he did a very good job of that. 

This is a sad book, but it is so much more! 

This is a book that inspires, encourages, teaches, and prepares us for life and for death.  Every one of us experiences both. 

Why not read this book, and strive for perfection? Yes, let us all do that!

When Breath Becomes Air” is available at Barnes and Noble.

Click to watch a video interview about the book, with the author’s wife, and see pictures from their life.

Note:  In the author’s quote, he uses the word “asymptote”, which was unfamiliar to me, so I looked up the definition and inserted this explanation of the word (as close as possible).





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