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When Breath Becomes Air Short Summary

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This is a nonfictional novel about the life of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, who is a famous neurosurgeon from Stanford University. It is an autobiography and his struggle against stage 4 lung cancer. The book became published in 2016 and is a best seller worldwide.

A Brief Look Through of the Synopsis

The book follows a chronological order from his young life to adulthood. Kalanithi was brought up in Arizona around nature and solitude. He loved reading, and when he got to college, he took literature and biology. He later found literature unfulfilling and joined a medical school.

Studying cadavers is one of his detailed memories. Paul learned and grew from his studies. He decided to concentrate on neurosurgery. Paul marries Lucy, his girlfriend after medical school, and they relocate to California, where they were both residents in their fields. Paul works 100 hours a week, and he gets many responsibilities in his first years. This is when he discovers his potential for good by interacting with various patients. In a few years, Paul rises in rank and becomes the top resident in his field. He loves what he does.

After some time, Paul starts getting suspicious symptoms that send him to a specialist. He is confused about how to approach this issue, and it causes a strain on his relationship with Lucy. They almost split up, and Paul gets a cancer diagnosis.

Some years pass, and Paul is still working on completing his residency while still managing his sickness. He works until it is time for his cancer treatment. He makes the choice of pill medication that should help him continue working. At this moment, he is still planning his life and even starts considering the possibilities of only having a year of life left. He decides to have a child with Lucy.

Later on, he gets a CT scan that shows that his cancer has grown. He starts chemo the next week. He undergoes a dark period during treatment and his hope stats wavering. He keeps reading and writing during the period.

Paul is taken into the ER almost immediately their daughter is being born. He, however, gets to be by his wife’s side on a separate cot. The next few months are full of joy, and Paul wants his daughter to know how happy she made him.

He starts deteriorating eight months after the birth and eventually dies. The epilogue of the book is written by Lucy describing their happiness in the final few months.

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