Before he left us

April 12, 2015

Paul-Kalanithi-MDThere was once a young neurosurgeon at Stanford who, as an undergraduate and master’s student,  had been an English lit major. He could write, oh, could he write. But he had another part of his brain, too, one that sent him to medical school and to one of the toughest specialties.

And then, in his residency, he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Oh, the irony. This bright young surgeon who could save so many lives was to see his own cut short. He wasn’t a smoker, either.

Stanford’s obituary reads “writer and neurosurgeon dies at 37.”  While for some, his memory lives on because they, his patients, live on, for the rest of us his memory lives on in the few beautiful published essays he wrote about his situation before he went.

Before he went.

Why does his story make me tear up?

Because before he went, he taught us the meaning of life. In his short life, he taught us.

And maybe that was his soul’s purpose.

Paul Kalanithi, M.D. Writer.  He is unforgettable.

I’d like to share with you some of his writing and ask you about it.

His NY Times essay on his diagnosis, HERE.

After his diagnosis, he and his wife, who is also a doctor, decided to have a child.  THIS is his message to his daughter.

And his Stanford obituary can be found HERE.

So tell me, how did you respond to his writing?


18 comments on “Before he left us
  1. How tragically sad, Carol. And the unfortunate irony of it all. But as young as he was he left quite a legacy, one that stayed with you. Some people live a long life and never do that. You were blessed to be among his students.

  2. Because I am a gerontologist, I am saturated with concerns of older adults trying to maintain quality of life despite many challenges. So when I read about someone who dies at 37, it’s quite shocking. Thanks for sharing his writing. Peace and comfort to his loved ones.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I responded to his writing by tearing up. Such a brilliant man and so poignant.
    Lung cancer is such a vicious desease.
    Several years ago I attended a Lung Cancery fund raising dinner. Of the eight people at my table, one was a brilliant Dr doing groundbreaking research. One was a 6 year old little girl who had just had a lung removed because of lung cancer (no one smoked in their home). One was a 19 college girl, who has since died. One was a TV actress who has since lost her battle, and one was the mother of this 6year old.
    I volunteer when I can for this foundation that does remarkable work.
    Thanks for sharing this story. I had not heard of him.

  4. Very moving and tragic. What a wonderful, loving highly skilled man to die so young.

  5. What memorable words he wrote to his daughter. I like the idea of writing a ledger of activities and triumphs. More simple than a memoir.

  6. MollyTinsley says:

    Tears and gratitude.

  7. Laurel Regan says:

    Beautiful, heartbreaking writing. What a tragedy that there will be no more words from this amazing man.

  8. Ajay Pai says:

    He would continue to live on through his patients who were cured by him and through the essays he wrote.
    My Prayers for the departed soul.

  9. “Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

    This man’s writing represented validation for me…this sentiment is, for those who have endured some form of significant loss but gone on to live our best life in the face of the adversity, an awareness and acceptance of epic proportions… As I wrote in my memoir, “All things live and all things die…”

    What is even more inspiring and mind-blowing than this man’s words, Carol, is the invisible umbilical cord that has connected you and me and Livbysurprise this week…it exists in the form of one word: Regret…

  10. I was crying write through reading, Carol. What a remarkable decision by his wife too, to have a child. An altogether amazing couple!

  11. Diane says:

    So touching, Carol. What an impact he had in his too-short life. I hope his daughter grows up to be SOOOO proud of him, even if he can’t be physically with her!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.