In his sixth year of neurosurgical residency at Stanford, Dr. Paul Kalanithi developed night sweats, back pain, and cough. His weight dropped precipitously. In May, 2013, he was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell EGFR positive lung cancer. He had never smoked.
He was treated and went back to work.
He published a moving op-ed piece in the NY Times called How Long Have I Got Left.
Dr. Kalanithi died on March 9th this year. His most recent publication, Before I Go, moved me to tears. You’d have to have a heart of stone to react otherwise. The final paragraphs from that article are provided below.
He is survived by his wife, a physician, and his newborn daughter.
Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.
Yet one thing cannot be robbed of her futurity: my daughter, Cady. I hope I’ll live long enough that she has some memory of me. Words have a longevity I do not. I had thought I could leave her a series of letters — but what would they really say? I don’t know what this girl will be like when she is 15; I don’t even know if she’ll take to the nickname we’ve given her. There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.
That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.