Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

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When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

Random House

208 pages

There are always those books that are like a punch to the gut. The kind of book that resonates with you and sticks with you for a long time to come. This is one of those books.

Paul Kalanithi led an extraordinary life. At 36 years old, he was at the prime of his life. 10 years of non stop work to become a neurosurgeon was about to pay off when Kalanithi was plagued with debilitating back pain. He feared the worst but knew that the odds were in his favor. A terminal cancer diagnosis at 36 is almost unheard of. And yet, that’s exactly what it was. Stage IV lung cancer.

I loved how open and honest Kalanithi was. He shared the struggles he went through with his wife and how his marriage suffered initially, only to be strengthened by his battle with cancer. He shared the painful decisions he had to make about his life. How unbearable it is to go from having a life mapped out before you and then realizing that your time here is much shorter than you initially thought. Kalanithi and his wife Lucy had always planned on having children. Immediately, they were faced with the realization that it would be now or never. And then the question of his life’s work as a neurosurgeon. How can you give up on a career you’ve been building for over a decade? On the other hand, how can you spend what precious time you have left devoting your time and energy to such a demanding career?

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When Breath Becomes Air had such a huge impact on me in a way I can’t really describe. I felt like I really got to know Kalanithi through his struggles and I really cared for him and grieved for him as well as his family. I was left with the feeling that the worl truly lost someone special. I loved this book in the sense that it really meant something to me, but I can only handle a book like this  every once in awhile.

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