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Doctor Faced Mortality as a New Parent

"Clocks are now kind of irrelevant to me. Time, where it used to have kind of a linear-progression feel to it, now feels more like a space."—Paul Kalanithi, MD

In his sixth year of residency at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Paul Kalanithi had a full body scan that revealed metastatic lung cancer. His body initially responded to treatment, and he and his wife, Lucy, decided to have a child as he completed his residency. Elizabeth Acadia “Cady” Kalanithi was born days after her father was released from his second hospital stay after he suffered a relapse.

Paul Kalanithi died of the disease March 9, about two years after his diagnosis. He was 37 and a gifted neurosurgeon. But before his departure, he published two essays, “How Long Have I Got Left?” for The New York Times and “Before I Go” for Stanford Medicine, which both explored his mortality, a changing perception of time, and the meaningful life he continued to experience in the face of his illness. He also recorded a video for his piece in Stanford Medicine.

"In all probability I wont live long enough for her to remember me, or certainly not have any clear memory of me," Kalanithi says of his daughter. "The faster Cady grows up, the faster I'm not there. At the same time, every day is an exciting, rewarding, meaningful time to spend with her."

Kalanithi's obituary in Stanford Medicine notes that in the face of his illness, he "continued to joke, and laugh, enjoy the company of family, friends and colleagues, spend time appreciating nature and go wild at football games. He also helped raise money for lung cancer awareness."

Plenty of doctors become the patient, and when that happened to Paul Kalanithi, MD, he managed the stark reality of his situation with an unparalleled grace. In his Stanford Medicine essay, he closed with a message for his infant daughter:

"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."

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Image via YouTube/Stanford

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