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“When Breath Becomes Air”: A Poignant Memoir of a Life Cut Short by Cancer

By January 12, 2016Guest Post, Health

benzilGuest Post from Deborah L. Benzil, MD, FACS, FAANS
Vice President, AANS
Chair, AANS/CNS Communications and Public Relations Committee
Columbia University Medical Center
Mt Kisco, New York

Sometimes a physician heals with their hands, sometimes with their heart. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, MD, (1977-2015) did both with amazing skill and courage. “When Breath Becomes Air,” is an intimate memoir Dr. Kalanithi wrote after learning of his own diagnosis with terminal cancer. Writing became another of the many legacies the talented neurosurgeon would leave. The memoir is a follow-up to highly personal pieces published before his passing. His first article, “How Long Have I Got Left?,” appeared in the New York Times and his second essay, “Before I Go,” was featured in Stanford Medicine magazine and republished by the Washington Post.

air“When Breath Becomes Air,” has received a host of rave reviews. Abraham Varghese, MD, suggests that you both read the book and consider the response it creates. Janet Maslin, in her NY Times Review, states, “I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.” Another review in Slate, “The Last Rotation,” by Anna Reisman, also captures the poignancy of this remarkable work:

Kalanithi’s writing is urgent, and the most polished and poetic parts of the book are adapted from the few essays he published; the rest, if a little rougher around the edges, is suffused with intelligence and evidence of a rich soul.

Many in neurosurgery were touched by Dr. Kalanithi during his brief but accomplished career. Through the lyrical words of his new book, I suspect he will touch the lives of many more.


Dr. Kalanithi

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