Lucy Kalanithi grows through her husband’s memoir

Jun 19, 2016

Paul Kalanithi was a rising, young neurosurgeon, but things changed drastically. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His tumors had moved from his lungs to his spine, and then up towards his brain.


He spent his 20s reading and thinking about mortality, and death. And at 37, Paul spent his last days thinking about what he’d read. His thoughts became his memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air”. He died in March of last year.


His wife, Lucy, was also a doctor — and internist. With their experience as physicians, knowing what every moment of his last months on Earth would be like was a blessing and a curse, Lucy said.

“I think the task of taking care of someone who’s ill is overwhelming,” Lucy said. “The fact that I was familiar with it was empowering...We knew how it would play out. We had a language to be able to reflect on it and talk about it. We had seen it through our own patients. It was really wrenching, but also not totally unfamiliar territory.”

Lucy wrote the epilogue in Paul’s memoir, a task she said has been helpful with her grieving process.


In a way, she said, she thinks Paul was positioned in the right way to write about his experiences.