A thought provoking book

A versatile vest


photo from Jordan

I can’t remember the last book I devoured as quickly as When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I fought back, hard, against the tears that wanted to pour from my eyes as I read his wife, Lucy’s, epilogue at the conclusion of the book on the airplane.

This may be the kind of book you want to finish in private, so you can just cry.

I heard about this book through Joanna Goddard, the blogger at A Cup of Joe, a blog I’ve read on and off for about a year or so. Paul was her brother-in-law, he married Joanna’s twin sister. So I felt a little bit of familiarity in reading it, knowing who Joanna is through her blog.

I also felt an unusual connection given Justin’s health situation, which you can watch here. Justin’s is so far in the opposite direction from Paul’s illness that the only thing that could possibly bind the two is that their disease both starts with the letter “c”. Other than that, they’ve had nearly opposite circumstances with it.

It is unimaginable to me, even after reading his book which walked the reader through much of his internal dialogue, how one endures such a grueling sickness. I just can’t imagine how every moment of your day would be immediately affected upon discovering the news.

It left a heavy feeling in my heart, but one I appreciated time to mull over while I was alone on the airplane.

It made me think about the kinds of things I would look back on in my life with fondness, and the things that would suddenly mean absolutely nothing to me, if I were in a situation like Paul, or even Lucy.

My list of meaningful moments or people grew short. My boys, my husband, my family, and my family-like friends. They would be at the center of cherished memories of events or even non-events like a typical Wednesday night at home, giving the boys a bath, feeding Luke a bottle and watching him bury his face in his blue blanket, all while David and Justin compete to surpass the amount of laughter they shared from the night before during bedtime.

And I also thought through a list of things that would, in a blink, suddenly hold no worth. And it was a good lesson in really evaluating what I’m putting emphasis on in my life right now. I’m a thinker, and often my day to day is so busy that I don’t take much time to really think, so I’m grateful for the perspective and reminder that this book provided for me.

I loved that Paul wrote about how much he wanted to write a book, in his book. It made me feel proud that he was able to do it before his death. He accomplished so, so much in his life, and his book is absolutely worth a read.

For another book review, see here.


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Trisha says · 03.30.16

I wouldn’t be able to read a book such as this. Far too close to home for all the “C” that has run through my family. I would likely have an anxiety attack while reading. However, I’m glad he was able to share his most intimate thoughts with those who chose to read his memoir before his passing.

Kate says · 03.30.16

Totally understand that, I’m sorry to hear about the frequency in your family, and agree–this book wouldn’t be good for you to read!

Kim says · 03.30.16

I definitely need to get my hands on this book. It sounds like a good read and it’s always good to be reminded about what’s important to you in your own life. I’ve been through the big “c” and had countless family members who also have. Being on both sides, it’s always interesting to me what goes through peoples thoughts, and how everyone is so different. For me, it was a much worse feeling to watch my mother suffer from it than when I personally did. Thanks for the recommend! XO -Kim

Laura Noll says · 03.30.16

I just put this on my “Books I want to Read” list the other day. I’m so glad to hear it’s as good as it sounds. My husband was sick for a year with an undiagnosed illness; he’s now been diagnosed with a very rare incurable blood disorder with a 10-year survival rate of 40%. You never know how something like this will affect your family until you go through it. Without my faith, it would be even more difficult. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Cynthia says · 03.30.16

I feel compelled to pray for you, so I will obey God and pray.

emily says · 03.30.16

Hi Kate! I just wanted to say I love your blog, and as a new mom to an almost 8 month old boy, I’m loving all your tips and tricks! I just finished this book as well, and had tears pouring down my cheeks for the entire second half. I love what you wrote above about reevaluating and it makes me think again what a gift this book is. It is so important to slow down, and smell the roses. I wish you & your family the absolute best. Thank you for sharing this.

Luanne says · 03.30.16

Put this on my list! I finished ‘The Shack’ had similar walkaways.

Katie says · 03.30.16


I put this on my “books to read” shelf in Good Reads about a week ago. I’ve been debating reading it as I have very personal, painful experiences with illness, both my own and in my family. While our ‘c’ might be of a different sort, though still begins with ‘c’, it has caused enough heartache over the years. However, I think I would like to read the book for the thought-provoking reasons you shared regarding priorities. Thank you for sharing your perspective and I look forward to sitting down with this book.

Julie says · 03.30.16

Thank you for sharing your personal story Justin. God bless you. I just lost my mom to colon cancer so I am not sure this book would be comforting to me. Maybe some day.

Beth says · 03.30.16

I’m glad you were able to read something to make you stop and have a good think. As tough as it is to read about someone else’s pain, I think it’s necessary sometimes, and the goal of the writer, to help us realize that there are things in life that we put too much emphasis on that really don’t mean a hill of beans. And, usually these insignificant things end up taking our time away from the most important people in our life. Isn’t that something? We are covering Job in our Bible study, and after reading your post, I think that God is trying to get my attention :). Thank you for your thoughtful posts and God bless you and your sweet family!

LeslieJeannene says · 03.30.16

It strange, today at work we talked about how his wife will be doing a session at our next conference about the book. I had seen your review this morning but didn’t have time to read it before heading to work. Dr. Verghese who wrote the forward spoke at a conference I did last year, he was wonderful. Looking forward to reading it and learning more about it.

AnnW says · 03.30.16

I raced through this book. It was fascinating and so well written. What a loss to humankind. Paul Kalanithi seemed like a wonderful person. I’m so glad that Lucy received a house makeover from The Little Green Notebook. The change was dramatic and would have lifted anyone’s spirits. Life is shorter than we realize, so we should never postpone things. Thanks for promoting one of my favorite books ever!

Meg says · 03.30.16

Sounds like a good book. I will add it to my “To Read” list.

Melissa G says · 03.31.16

I am a home hospice nurse, and have been for the last 16 years. So I deal with this every single day. Many times you go in your car and cry…and I have cried with many a family!!

I’m going to have to read this!…if I ever find time to read again…

Ann C says · 04.04.16

When my husband and I were told it was time to go home and be together, that time was short. I stepped into the hall and started crying even tho we knew it was coming. A nurse came and held me and when she stepped back I saw she had shed some tears too. I heard later that she had been reprimanded for her unprofessional behavior. I wrote the hospital and told them how much it meant to me that she cared that much. I also wrote to her and thanked her for sharing that moment with me. Not sure if I can read the book or not but am going to put it on my list.

Vicki says · 03.31.16

When our son-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, he and my daughter got involved in an organization called I’m Too Young For This (stupidcancer.org). It’s a wonderful organization for young people and a great resource. I would encourage any young person with cancer to contact them.

Anna says · 03.31.16

agree, this is a very special book. I enjoyed it tremendously as well.
thanks for posting book reviews!

Pam says · 03.31.16

I learned this years ago. My two best friends died from cancer. I am a two time stage 4 survivor.

“…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16b

anonD says · 04.05.16

I picked it up and read the entire thing in one sitting. It was surprising to me that I finished the book in tears, yet I was left with a feeling that was peaceful and comforted. The honesty with which the author faced his own mortality was incredible. This is so thought-provoking and life-changing. Thank you for the suggestion.

NicoleMcRoberts says · 11.21.22

Wow, thanks for sharing! Sometimes you come across a book, start reading, and it makes you think about so many things or you receive so many insights. I love reading, and I usually read detective books or romance, but sometimes I read books connected to lifestyle, medicine, eating habits, psychology, and so on. But for now, I have books to read, and they are psychological. It’s not my major, but I have two psychological courses, and it’s very interesting to me. Especially when it comes to practical tasks. For example, in two weeks, I have a deadline for a psychological paper. The last time I had to write it, I used https://papersowl.com/psychology-essay-writing-service because I wasn’t confident in my skills and thought that usage of a psychology essay writing service would be the best decision. But now my skills are better, and I’ve almost finished the book, and I want to make it based on my writing. But anyway, it’s good to know that if there is a need, I’ll be able to get professional help. But I’ll do my best, and then I’ll have more time; I’ll start a new book and hope it will open something up for me.