Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a Stanford neurosurgeon who won wide recognition for his published reflections on how he coped with his own terminal disease, died of lung cancer earlier this week at the age of 37.
Stanford announced Kalanithi’s death Wednesday in an obituary that detailed both his academic and professional accomplishments and his brief, remarkable career as an essayist. A favorite detail: He came to Stanford as an undergrad and left with both a bachelor’s and a master’s in English literature and a bachelor’s in human biology.
He next studied the history and philosophy of science and medicine at the University of Cambridge, earning a master’s degree, before attending the Yale School of Medicine. In 2007, he graduated from Yale cum laude, winning the Lewis H. Nahum Prize, awarded for his research on Tourette’s syndrome, and membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. At Yale, he also met classmate Lucy Goddard, whom he married in 2006.
He returned to Stanford for a residency in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience, during which he authored more than 20 scientific publications and received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for research.
He was also a husband, father, brother and son, and leaves a large family, several members of which are doctors themselves, mourning his passing.
The Stanford obituary includes the video (above) produced to accompany Kalanithi’s final essay, “Before I Go,” which appears in the spring 2015 issue of Stanford Medicine magazine.
Here’s one passage from that essay:
Time for me is double-edged: Every day brings me further from the low of my last cancer relapse, but every day also brings me closer to the next cancer recurrence — and eventually, death. Perhaps later than I think, but certainly sooner than I desire. There are, I imagine, two responses to that realization. The most obvious might be an impulse to frantic activity: to “live life to its fullest,” to travel, to dine, to achieve a host of neglected ambitions. Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time, it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. It is a tired hare who now races. But even if I had the energy, I prefer a more tortoiselike approach. I plod, I ponder, some days I simply persist.