Book Review: "When Breath Becomes Air"

Posted by Marlene Delaney

Book Review:

I read. And I write, but not nearly as much as I read. And sometimes I read books about dying. I recently read "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi, which has been on The New York Times best seller list for several weeks. It is written by a neurosurgeon regarding his diagnosis with terminal lung cancer.

I flagged several lines in the book because they resonated with me. 

The first part of the book is a reflection on his life in the medical field.

· On page 80: “Learning to judge whose life could be saved, whose couldn’t be, and whose shouldn't be requires an unattainable prognostic ability.”

· On page 102: “How little do doctors understand the hells through which we put patients.”

The second part of the book is about Kalanithi’s diagnosis and treatments.

· On page 120, “Severe illness isn’t life-altering, it was life-shattering.”

· On page 143, “'What are you most afraid or sad about?' she asked me one night as we were lying in bed. 'Leaving you,' I told her.”

· On page 171, “We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t live up to it all the time.”

And finally his wife writes an epilogue.

· On page 233, “It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it.”

All of these lines made me reflect on my husband’s death – and how fortunate we were that our doctors and care providers understood the importance of quality of life and quality of end of life. While my husband was sick, our doctors tried their best to provide him with comfort. They addressed his physical and emotional issues as best as they could ― and they cared about me, too. And when he entered the hospital after a massive seizure, the ICU neurologist explained the brutality of CPR and extreme measures ― especially on someone who had cancer throughout his brain. He helped me realize that hospice care was the responsible decision for my husband ― and for me.

The respect, professionalism, and caring that we received through hospice provided us with a loving end to my husband’s life. And as result of this care, even though I miss my husband tremendously, I know that his doctors and I made the right decisions for us throughout his end-of-life journey.

I highly recommend this book to everyone and anyone ― people who are suffering from a terminal illness, caregivers, doctors, other medical professionals. We should all reflect on our life such as Paul Kalanithi did, but more importantly, we should all reflect on our death. It is going to happen, so we should try to be ready for it and have our family be ready, too.

""When Breath Becomes Air" is available for purchase on Amazon

This Saturday, April 16, is National Health Care Decisions Day. Let's make our preferences known. All are welcome to obtain a copy of “Five Wishes,” from Be @ Ease at

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