When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
I may have found this year’s best read in When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. When a reader connects to a story, either through great writing and/or connection to the topic, that’s a success. The book is the real-life story of the author, a neurosurgeon trained at Stanford and Yale, who experiences the most tragic of fates as he serves his residency at Stanford University: learning that he has terminal cancer at thirty-six years old. The story opens my own family wounds, losing my sister to cancer just a few years ago. Linda was at the top of her field as a tile maker, in many ways similar to the skills needed to be a surgeon: precise and tactical in approaching the work. Dr. Paul, only a year from completing his residency, is a workaholic, gaining accolades for his work. After learning of his diagnosis, Paul decides to use the disease to teach himself and others the struggles one faces with each step of fighting cancer, including the decision of whether he and his wife should have a child (which they do). This is a book that teaches the lessons of life, a life no one wishes on anyone. Life is never what we think it will be and reminds us how fragile life can be and that we should do all we can while we are able. Each decision, the highs/lows and the importance of a support system (family/wife) are captured. Cancer is ugly, no matter the fighter and no matter the outcome as the unknown always sits in the mind of the patient. How courageous that Paul leaves us with the gift of “how to determine” what makes a meaningful life along the way of his battle. Family, work, life and death all rolled into one truly thoughtful and reflective book.