Friday 1st July 2016
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Summer 2016
Lucy Kalanithi visited Macmillan to talk about her late husband’s best-selling memoir.
We were privileged to host Lucy Kalanithi at Macmillan’s London office in February, for a talk to staff about her husband’s memoir ‘When Breath Becomes Air’.
The book, which has become a number one New York Times bestseller, was written by Paul Kalanithi as he faced a terminal cancer diagnosis. Paul was an American neurosurgeon who had studied at Stanford, Cambridge and Yale universities. He was 36 when diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. The book explores his experiences of facing cancer as both a clinician and a patient, and his reflections on what it means to live and die well. Lucy and Paul had a daughter in the months before he died, and the book is dedicated to her.
Lucy, who is also a doctor, told Macmillan staff: ‘I have family in the UK and when they heard I was coming here, they all knew exactly what you do and have such a positive sense of the support you provide.’
Lucy read excerpts from the book and told Macmillan Joint Chief Medical Officer, Jane Maher, about how the act of writing the book had helped Paul: ‘For Paul, “hope” meant not only how long you’re going to live, but also the idea of having meaningful time and a purpose. Writing this book contributed to that hope. He felt engaged in communicating his story.’
Lucy told staff about how much having a daughter had meant to Paul: ‘This last paragraph of the book is sort of a love letter to our daughter, and the impact she had on him.’
Lucy spoke about how helpful palliative care was to her and Paul. ‘Paul was able to have a really frank conversation with his palliative care doctor about how he was going to die, what it might feel like and how he could get help with symptoms. On the flipside, another doctor did not mention anything about prognosis. I do wonder whether, had we not been doctors, that might have been confusing.’
Macmillan’s book list
Macmillan has produced a core book list, to help cancer information centres and public libraries improve the quality and reliability of the cancer material they stock.
All books on the list meet key quality criteria, including having been reviewed favourably by our book review panel. Since 2007, more than 1,200 different people affected by cancer and health professionals have written over 4,500 reviews of 350 books.
Books in a similar vein to ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ that people affected by cancer have liked are:
• ‘The iceberg. A memoir’ by Marion Coutts
• ‘Late fragments. Everything I want to tell you (about this magnificent life)’ by Kate Gross
• ‘Mortality’ by Christopher Hitchens.
Download the core books list or contact Sue Hawkins if you would like to become a book reviewer.