According to Goodreads I shelved When Breath Becomes Air on December 6, 2016 so it is a pretty clear choice for the Backlog bingo square.
“What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”
Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of thirty-six just as he was completing his decade’s long training to be a neurosurgeon. He had felt for months he may have cancer but put off getting any scans done until his back pain became unbearable. Paul had an interesting take on being a cancer patient because he had spent years being the doctor and now the tables were turned. His wife, Lucy, is also a doctor so she had an expert understanding as well about her husband’s diagnosis and prognosis. Paul would read his own scans and talk to his oncologist, Emma, as a peer not his doctor. As Paul got worse he became less of a contributor to his healthcare, eventually putting all his medical decisions in his oncologist Emma’s capable hands.
Paul studied English literature at Stanford before pursuing his medical education at Yale; he was already planning to focus on writing towards the end of his career but his cancer diagnosis pushed up his timeline which resulted in the manuscript that eventually became When Breath Becomes Air.
Paul succumbed to his cancer about two years after his diagnosis leaving behind this beautiful, tragic book in his wake. His widow, Lucy, writes a hauntingly beautiful epilogue detailing the final days of her husband’s life and helping to round out the story for the reader. This isn’t a book you read to enjoy but it is a book you read to remind yourself that life is worth living and to make each moment count.
“I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. 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.”