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.
Learning to Live While Learning to Die
The Kalanithis—Paul, a neurosurgeon, and Lucy, an internist, both at Stanford—were both experienced in treating terminally ill patients. Then Paul himself was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and, overnight, became a patient struggling to live. The future he and Lucy had envisioned suddenly looked very different. Together, they faced the questions, What makes a life worth living ? What do you do when the future you hoped for no longer exists? How do you find meaning in the face of inevitable suffering? Dr. Lucy Kalanithi speaks to their experience of embracing life in the face of death, coping with uncertainty and adversity, and making the powerful decision to have a child despite Paul’s illness—and how ultimately, they found that life is not about avoiding suffering, but rather about creating meaning.
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.
The Crossroads of Healthcare Value and Human Values
Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, an internist at Stanford who also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in healthcare value and healthcare delivery innovation, speaks from the perspectives of both a physician and a family caregiver (to her late husband Paul Kalanithi) about the true value of healthcare. Coming from a perspective uniquely informed on both the medical and personal fronts, Dr. Kalanithi touches on questions such as: Are we getting what we are hoping for—and paying for—from our healthcare system? How can we improve the value of healthcare by bettering care and lowering its financial and emotional costs? How can we all—patients, families and healthcare providers—help each other to live and die well?
In her talks and her new podcast, Gravity, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi helps audiences of all kinds move through uncertainty and reframe loss
DR. LUCY KALANITHI is launching a moving and poignant podcast, Gravity which explores 'hardship as a part of life.' In each episode, she will speak with guests who are facing particular life struggles, their conversations focusing on the literature, philosophies, art, beliefs and mantras that have helped them most in their hardest times. One of her recent inspiring conversations was captured by the Washington Post. Dr. Kalanithi has helped us explore illness, dying and grief, most poignantly through her talks and the moving book When Breath Becomes Air which chronicled the illness of her husband Paul who died of cancer in 2015. Now, she helps us see, address and reframe the grief and loss in our lives - 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. In this time of uncertainty, Dr. Kalanithi offers audiences the perspective, compassion and inspiration we need to keep moving forward.
VIRTUAL PROGRAMMING: Dr. Lucy Kalanithi leaves healthcare audiences deeply connected to what it is that they do, energized as if they were stepping into their profession for the first time, yet again
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 and author and subject of the #1 New York Times bestseller, When Breath Becomes Air—DR. LUCY KALANITHI asks on behalf of herself and other healthcare providers: What is at the core of the physician-patient (or provider-patient) relationship? What power do healthcare providers hold, and how can we use it most beneficially? What might make difficult healthcare conversations healthier for all of us? How do we, as healthcare providers, build meaningful work and meaningful lives? Is inevitable illness and death a failure of the medical system or an opportunity for human connection? Watch Dr. Kalanithi’s recent virtual talk at Aspen Ideas: Health 20/20 >>
In this inspiring and heartfelt talk, Dr. Kalanithi leaves audiences deeply connected to what it is that they do, energized as if they were stepping into their profession for the first time, yet again. Audiences rave, “Lucy was absolutely amazing, and everyone in the room was so honored to be able to meet her and hear her story first-hand!” (Children’s Hospital Stanford) "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." (Vidant Health) "We couldn’t be more delighted. She is just such a bright shining light! We were inspired and I now have a new personal hero." (Caret Clinical Summit)
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.