What is Life? | When Breath Becomes Air


Humans have been searching for the answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?” throughout mankind. From Greek philosophers, pastors, monks, and just day-to-day conversations, everyone has their own interpretation of the meaning of life. “When Breath Becomes Air” is an iteration of the author’s interpretation of the meaning of life. He was a neurosurgeon neuroscientist who graduated from Yale School of Medicine and completed his residency and fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The book actually starts with the author looking at his own CT scans diagnosing himself with cancer. Entering the final year of his residency, he developed severe back pain and weight loss over the course of six months. His marriage was also being tested because he refused to tell his wife about the cancer diagnosis. The couple was going to have a holiday trip but the trip went on with the husband alone. Having to cut back the holiday due to the symptoms getting worse, the author decided to head back to Stanford to get properly diagnosed with his symptoms.

His wife, Lucy, picked him up at the airport and upon arriving at the home. Paul told Lucy that he, indeed, thought to have cancer by simply looking at his chest X-ray films. After that, he wrote that the distance between them had vanished. Paul proceeded to be admitted at Stanford, the very place he lived and worked throughout his residency years where he saw many deaths, cures, patients going in and out of the place.

He divided his life into two parts in which the part one being his life before the diagnosis and after the diagnosis.

Part I – In Perfect Health I Begin

The part portrays the life of the author, young, fun, going on with his normal childhood. Despite being surrounded by doctors, he wrote that he was never going to be a doctor. He recalled that his father was not able to have enough time for the sons due to the nature of being a cardiologist. The author also stated the fact that his father’s decision of moving from the New York suburbs to the middle of a desert was mysterious.

At least he and his friends were having fun while going on adventures throughout the desert. His mother was quite concerned about the education of the small town that they just moved into. Worrying about the future education for her sons, the mother made the author read books like 1984 when he was ten years old. Having had to read many books encouraged by his mother, he chose literature classes for his college years. But before that, his then-girlfriend gave him a book named Satan: His psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr Kassler; J.S.P.S., by Jeremy Leven.

After reading it in a day, while choosing college classes, in addition to literature classes, he added neuroscience and biology classes as well. The author wanted to find a relation between the mind and the physical organ, the brain, which supposedly contains the mind. Throughout the part, the author wrote several memorable events for him like how he wanted to become a physician, his first encounter with a cadaver, how the first birth he witnessed was also the first death, why he decided to pursue the neurosurgeon career, how he treated his patients before a point and after that point, how he had dealt with his fellow residents, doctors and colleagues, how he liked to spend the time with his newlywed wife, Lucy, and how he was on a defined and well thought out path laid in front of his life.

Part II – Cease Not till Death

It was clear that he had lung cancer not only in his lungs but also it was spreading throughout his body. He was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. At that point in his life, all of his future plans disappeared. After witnessing many life and death situations as a doctor, he understood and interpreted the meaning of life. It’s totally different when he was the one facing death as a patient. Between the diagnosis and his death, the author encountered a lot of ups and downs.

During the time that he was being treated with the first line of therapy. And he actually managed to finish his neurosurgery residency. He and his wife also decided to have a kid. Due to his disease, there were many uncertainties about whether he should choose to have kids or not. Or should he continue pursuing his career or become a writer. He did not know that he had another year or another ten years to live.

His oncologist was a great help to find ways to live a meaningful life during his uncertain years of life. After being treated with the first line of therapy for 8 months, his health began to deteriorate. During the final year of his life, he had to survive with chemotherapy and his family. He also wrote this book during that time. He died on March 9, 2015, at the age of 35. The book was his memoir.

One’s understanding of the meaning of life comes during a life-death situation. Whether one had lived its life good or bad. However, this book shows that a human changed their perspective on their life depending on the events he would be concurrently facing.

Here is the Amazon link for the book – https://www.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Paul-Kalanithi/dp/081298840X .

Here is the link – https://summarybook.org/to-kill-a-mockingbird-summary/ – to 3 key reasons from the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

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