When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book starts out a little unfocused, possibly because the author himself was a little confused about what his future held at the beginning. But as it became more clear that he would soon die, he consolidated his thoughts.
Having lost my dad to cancer, I have the same complaints about cancer treatment that he had. Disjointed care at Valley Hospital- the urologists didn't talk to the oncologists and so on; his oncologist went on maternity leave and no one properly took her place so my dad would die while she was on maternity leave with no real oncologist to help with decisions; inadequate late-night staff; and the sudden cessations of treatment when it became unclear if the cancer or the treatment was doing more damage. These issues, best explained by someone who is himself a doctor, are issues that demand correction.
The second most important thing this book deals with is the issue of whether to live like you will never die or like you might die imminently. Despite the difficulty, I'm a firm believer in doing your best to live in the latter way. As horrific as cancer is, it does allow time to sort out final business and time to say goodbye. Many deaths are sudden- physically painless- but if your matters aren't settled because you've lived like this was always a possibility, then your matters will never be settled. Your life might be not have been lived to the best of your ability.
Finally, Kalanithi's wife has important things to say about mourning a loved one. She expresses surprise that the love remains. Death does not take the actual love with the loved one. Much as they might leave you a piano, the love remains with the living. This has been my experience as well.
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