When Paul Kalanathi was 36 years old, he was on the cusp of finishing a decade’s worth of training to become a neurosurgeon — a profession he felt called to. But then he learned he had terminal stage four lung cancer. In a single moment, everything changed in his life. For the next twenty two months, Paul and his wife Lucy grappled with how to live life even when you know you have limited time left. In his last few months, Paul wrote a memoir about this search for meaning in life and death, as well as his experience as a medical student, neurosurgeon, and cancer patient. Entitled When Breath Becomes Air, the book was published shortly after he died.
Today, I talk to Paul’s widow, Dr. Lucy Kalanathi, about Paul’s journey to uncover insights about meaning and significance during his time as both doctor and patient. Along the way, Lucy shares insights about the human side of healthcare, delivering and receiving bad news, and how your identity and sense of self changes when you’re diagnosed with a terminal disease. She also shares her experience of being a widow and of the grieving process, as well as what to say and not say to someone who’s grappling with a tragedy.
- What it was like for Paul and Lucy to learn of his diagnosis
- Paul intellectual journey to find life’s meaning
- What Paul learned about life and death during medical school
- How the grind of medical school makes doctors jaded
- Paul’s approach for delivering bad news in a more humane and compassionate way (and why it’s not a one-time event)
- How a cancer diagnosis changed Paul and Lucy’s life and relationship
- Figuring out how to cope with and live with a terminal illness
- The decision to have a child in the midst that diagnosis
- The connection between suffering and love
- Paul’s transition from doctor to patient
- How Paul’s oncologist helped the whole process
- The last few weeks of Paul’s life, and what his experience can show others in similar circumstances
- Lucy’s grieving process
- What to say to grieving people
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- What It’s Like to Become a Widower
- Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner
- What Building Your Own Coffin Teaches You About Life, Death, and Meaning
- Memento Mori
- What Man Understands That He Is Dying Daily?
- How to Protect Your Legacy
- 10 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend
- How to Comfort Someone Who’s Sad/Crying
- Ady Barkan (and his upcoming memoir Eyes to the Wind)
- Love Is All You Need
- Hot Young Widows Club
Connect With Lucy
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded on ClearCast.io
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