Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Goodreads Summary: For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a na├»ve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

Goodreads Rating: 4.37 stars with over 48,000 ratings
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir
Get the book: AmazonBook Depository
Book Challenge: Pop Sugar Challenge, An Autobiography, book 11/40
Book Haul: April 13th, 2016

Edited 12/1/2016

First of all, I need to thank the kind stranger who sent me this book. Back in April, a friend invited me to participate in a book exchange on Facebook. It was sort of a chain reaction thing, where you sent a book to the person who introduced your friend to the exchange. You then posted a status, and the friends of your friends sent you a book. This book was the first of many in the exchange I received. I'll be honest; it is not something in a million years I would have picked up for myself. I've been inclined to read autobiographies. That being said, I'm truly grateful that this book was sent to me. So, thank you kind stranger.

If you are not prepared to be emotional and reevaluate your life, do not read this book because the life of Paul Kalanithi is going to take you on an emotional roller coaster. Paul writes about his career as a Neurosurgeon and his need to find the meaning of life and death. It then transitions into his life once he's diagnosed with cancer. It's brutally honest. You are spared no expense on the medical front, so if medical descriptions give you the chills, you may want to take caution when reading.

I found the medical side of things fascinating. Paul writes about various surgeries and procedures that he does as a doctor and then what he goes through as a patient. I found myself having to use what little medical knowledge I gained from my degree in medical coding.

Even though Paul's story is a sad one in some regards, there's a bit of humor in the book. In the Epilogue, his wife Lucy writes that Paul was wickedly funny. In certain parts of the book, you can see his humor come out in his writing. At one point in time, he jokes that learning to operate on donors made him hungry for a burrito.

Throughout this book, Paul struggles with his identity once he's diagnosed with cancer. Is he still a doctor or a patient? Instead of just letting his illness define him, Paul uses it to carve a new identity- a father and a writer. He uses it to strengthen his relationship with his family and instead of hoping for a miracle he just hopes for days filled with meaning. I think his words are very inspirational. He goes from helping his patients to continuing to help people even after his life-changing diagnosis. It has made me rethink how I act in life. I've already been trying to be a more positive person, but I'd be lying if I don't let my ailments become my excuse. It's too early to tell, but perhaps I'll use this inspiration to take better care of my health. This man didn't let CANCER stop him from living a meaningful life, so why should I let my minor health problems stop me? Also, it's inspired me to write more. Ever since I was small, I wanted to be a writer. It's taken me a while to realize that I already am one. Sure, I write on a blog and am not putting out the millions of stories in my head, but I'm still writing. I'm still (hopefully) spreading the love of reading. I can only hope that my posts inspire someone to read.

I don't see how I can give this anything but five out of five moons. I honestly recommend it to anyone who needs an inspirational book. It's sad that Paul developed cancer and ultimately died from it. But that doesn't mean his life was sad. I obviously don't know him, but I'd like to think that he fulfilled his wish and lived a very meaningful life.

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