When Breath Becomes Air: Learning the Meaning of Life
Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a successful neurosurgery resident at Stanford and a loving husband when he was suddenly diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He died two years later at the age of 37, soon after his infant daughter was born. His critically-acclaimed memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller and has moved both the medical and literary worlds with its honest and heart-wrenching exploration of mortality and how, in Paul’s words, coming face to face with your own death changes both nothing and everything.
Paul’s widow Dr. Lucy Kalanithi—an internist at Stanford who wrote the book’s stunning epilogue—speaks with intelligence and compassion about what she learned in the process of caring for and then grieving her husband. Empowering and inspiring remarks, Dr. Kalanithi reveals how she learned to think differently about the meaning of life, and how audiences too can come to embrace every moment.
Meaning in Medicine: Healthcare and Human Values
An internist who trained at the Yale School of Medicine and the University of California-San Francisco, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi now practices at the Stanford School of Medicine, where she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in healthcare value and delivery innovation. Based on her dual experience as a physician and a caregiver to her late husband Paul Kalanithi—a neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer in 2015-- Dr. Kalanithi provides illuminating insights and thought-provoking questions for medical professionals and healthcare workers. She explores what is at the core of the physician-patient (or provider-patient) relationship, what power healthcare providers hold, and how it can be used most beneficially.
Coming from a perspective uniquely informed on both the medical and personal fronts, Dr. Kalanithi touches on questions such as: How can we improve the value of healthcare by bettering care and lowering its financial and emotional costs? What might make difficult healthcare conversations more healthy for all of us? How do we, as healthcare providers, build meaningful work and meaningful lives?
End-of-Life Care: Learning to Live While Learning to Die
In the wake of the death of her husband, a brilliant neurosurgeon who became a terminally ill patient overnight, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi speaks with honesty and eloquence about the practical and emotional challenges of caring for her late husband—and also their baby daughter, who was born during his illness—and learning that along with caregiving’s challenges can come increased intimacy and even joy. Opening up about the support and strategies that enabled her to care for her seriously ill husband while also taking care of herself, Dr. Kalanithi reflects on what we might do—in our communities, our society and our healthcare systems—to ensure the well-being of patients and families as they face end-of-life challenges together. Dr. Kalanithi also shares candid reflections on her personal experiences with mourning, and what she came to understand during her own grief: that even when a loved one dies, love doesn’t.
In her powerful remarks, Dr. Kalanithi addresses the human experience of dying with unique clarity and empathy. She reveals the importance of the doctor-patient relationship; the current state of affairs of end of life care for doctors, patients, and families; and the necessity of frank personal—and societal—conversations about death.
Caregiving: Pain, Joy, and Coping
In the wake of the death of her husband, a brilliant neurosurgeon who became a terminally ill patient overnight, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi speaks with honesty and eloquence about the practical and emotional challenges of caring for her late husband—and also their baby daughter, who was born during his illness—and learning that along with caregiving’s challenges can come increased intimacy and even joy. She shares the support and strategies that enabled her to care for her seriously ill husband while also taking care of herself. She reflects on what we might do—in our communities, our society and our healthcare systems—to ensure the well-being of patients and families as they face these critical challenges together.
On Grief: My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became A Widow
In the months after her husband’s death at age 37, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi wrote a widely-shared New York Times essay called “My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow.” She found solace in the writer C.S. Lewis’ observation that “bereavement is not the truncation of married love, but one of its regular phases… what we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase, too.” Dr. Kalanithi reflects on her personal experiences with mourning—the outward expressions of loss—and bereavement—the unavoidable state of facing a loss. She reflects on the individual and universal nature of the grief experience, its unpredictability, and what she came to understand during her own grief: that even when a loved one dies, love doesn’t.
Dr. Lucy Kalanithi adds a personal touch to healthcare conversations
Physician and patient advocate DR. LUCY KALANITHI helps audiences see, address, and reframe grief and loss as a part of life. In her podcast, Gravity, she openly discusses her experience of losing a loved one, her late husband Paul Kalanithi, to cancer. Her transparency in approaching these topics both as a widow and healthcare professional connects to audiences on a personal level.
Dr. Kalanithi addresses grief for the loss of what might have been, struggles with uncertainty, and other physical and emotional losses that are, as Kalanithi reminds us, part of life. Vidant Health’s event planner said, "Lucy was amazing. It could not have been better. I heard audience members use words like, 'open', 'honest', 'vulnerable', and 'real' to describe their perception of her presentation. We all felt kindred in spirit with her."
Dr. Lucy Kalanithi receives rave reviews for her keynotes and discussions
Physician and patient advocate DR. LUCY KALANITHI connects with audiences by approaching healthcare conversations with both medical expertise and personal empathy. Bo’s Place said, “Lucy is such a kind soul and we are so grateful to have had her be such an important part of our event! I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the audience. We could not have asked for a more wonderful, engaging and generous speaker."
By connecting her late husband’s bestselling book, When Breath Becomes Air, to her own patient advocacy, Dr. Kalanithi introduces audiences to a new approach to holistic care. Understanding every side of a caregiver relationship, Dr. Kalanithi is equipped with the tools to help audiences better care for both themselves and others. Essentials of Emergency Medicine said, "It was an absolute pleasure to have Lucy join us. She was so very kind and gracious, and the crowd really enjoyed having her. Her book signing was also a huge hit."
Dr. Kalanithi receives rave reviews for her presentations and discussions centering on patient care. Audiences are drawn to her unique perspective, engaging presentation style, and ability to connect current healthcare practices to personal stories. The University of Virginia’s School of Nursing and Medicine said, "Lucy was the best ever! We liked her warmth and her style. We filled 3 overflow rooms!"
Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, MD, FACP, is the widow of the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, for which she wrote the epilogue. An internal medicine physician and faculty member at the Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, CA, she completed her medical degree at Yale, where she was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society, her residency at the University of California-San Francisco, and a postdoctoral fellowship training in healthcare delivery innovation at Stanford’s Clinical Excellence Research Center.
At the cross-section of her career as a medical professional and her personal experience standing alongside her husband during his life, diagnosis, treatment, and death, Dr. Kalanithi has special interests in healthcare value, meaning in medicine, patient-centered care and, end-of-life care. She has appeared on PBS NewsHour, NPR Morning Edition, and Yahoo News with Katie Couric, and been interviewed for People, NPR, and The New York Times. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her daughter, Elizabeth Acadia.