The Life and Death of Paul Kalanithi: The Dilemma of Illness Identity in a Physician-Turned-Patient
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After his diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer, Paul Kalanithi composed the memoir When Breath Becomes Air. Kalanithi’s background as a student of literature allows for a well-crafted illness narrative in which he examines his life’s journey and his experience with illness. As Kalanithi experiences illness from different perspectives, most notably as a physician and a patient, he offers a poignant look on how a terminal diagnosis can affect a person in every dimension of their life. In this thesis, I study how the many facets of Kalanithi’s identity are affected by own his terminal diagnosis. This thesis uses Kalanithi’s experience in When Breath Becomes Air to explore the role of narrative in medicine, the role of suffering in illness, and the relationship between illness and the sense of self. This thesis helps to address the relative lack of published scholarship on Kalanithi's memoir since its publication.