When Breath Becomes Air

As a NYT best seller with over 11,000 reviews on Amazon– much has been said  about this deeply philosophical book wherein a Nuerosurgeon and literary aficionado gives us an ethical and  moral run down of his decisions to train as a doctor responsible for decisions (and millimeters of difference under the knife) that affect brains and thus our very identities….and then learns of a cancer diagnosis and must rexamine all those choices in the light if impending death.


Far more erudite folks than I have commented on his thoughtful words and ideas about medical care.


What i can provide, is my own perspective as  someone who has faced cancer, as Paul did, as  well as the difficult decisions (that you are never sure have been made correctly) about treatment and the acceptance of irrevocable change and damage that comes along with treatment.


Like Paul, I have passed my first round. I don’t know if, like Paul, I will face another round that will ultimately be the reason for my death.


I do know, that like Paul, a consequence of having faced a cancer diagnosis is, even for someone like me who is not an ambitious doctor with much lower stress commitments, something that has caused me in a teeth-grindingly obvious cliche to want my energy spent in pursuit of the contentment one finds through family and friends and rejection of the urges society dictates in favor of things that create connection.


Paul writes to his daughter Cady not to discount the joy she brought him, dying, as she lay on his lap: a little piece of the ever present now a parent can not deny or put off or fake.


And while my own children were not of lap age during my diagnosis, and I am facing the loss of my own identity as their parent as they enter the high school years just before leaving home, I do believe that the best of all possible results of living through cancer treatment and the resulting lifetime of uncertainty is to live contentedly.


So if reading this book (along with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal) makes me a bit maudlin and cliche..so be it. These are two books I believe all should read. An easy path to thinking about death…a crutch, if you will, as you follow along the authors’ thoughts towards the end, inevitably you will consider your own.