When breath becomes air

Paul Kalanithi was a man who spent his life trying to find Truth. First he searched for it in literature, then in neurosurgery and neuroscience. He studied at Stanford, Cambridge and Yale.

He wanted to understand the difference between brain and mind; between the physical and metaphysical. He was always acutely aware of his mortality, and was never afraid to face it.

‘When breath becomes air’ is a beautifully written autobiography of a man who had to make the difficult transition from a doctor who saved lives to a lung-cancer patient who knew that his would not be saved.

He continued to work as a surgeon despite aggressive treatment, and never gave up on his search for Truth.

This is an intelligent, thought-provoking and emotional story, and I would wager probably the best written book that I will read this year.




Paul talks about how even when we live, we are dying.

Often our search for beauty, truth, for why we are here, sits in the tension between life and death. We feel immortal, cannot grasp not exising; yet are faced with the inescapable truth that one day we will die.

Beauty is often found in the physical representation of our mortality: a flower that will soon wither; a sunset whose light will suddenly fade; a short-lived rainbow. Their very mortality makes their beauty even more sweet.

If we choose not to avoid our mortality, but instead stare it in the face, I believe that our search for Truth will be enabled. The pretence that if we don’t think about death then it will never find us, just blurs our vision.

Paul Kalanithi was a man with his eyes wide open. It’s stunningly refreshing.



January again

January. Such a weird time of year. Many of us have eaten, drunk and spent too much over Christmas, and are now expected to come up with an unrealistically long list of things that we are going to achieve in the coming year. We are supposed to be healthy, have big goals and look forward with unbridled joy to the the amazing new year. Sod that. I have always thought that new year is such a disappointment.

Cancer hasn’t helped with that. For the last few Januaries, I have not wanted to look back over the past year, nor look ahead too far either. That’s the thing with cancer, it tries to steal your future, even if you have been given the ‘No evidence of disease’ good news.

I went to a NYE party at a friend’s house this year. It was just what I needed- a chance to be sociable, be silly and absolutely no pressure to look cool for social media (in fact, I’m pretty sure I was the opposite), to or get raving drunk to ‘prove’ how much fun I was having.

I realised that it’s been several years since I haven’t either dreaded or ignored the new year celebrations. For the last few years, that was thanks to cancer and its long list of treatments, side-effects (such as social isolation) and associated illnessses; and before that thanks to pregnancy or having a baby and not a lot of sleep.

So how do I feel about the start of another year?

Well, it’s hard to be too positive, as 2017 was supposed to be my going-back-to-normal year, when in fact it was a succession of illnesses and other unfortunate events. There were a few of highlights, such as having all of my family together; two cute arrivals; and Christmas, which I really enjoyed (and actually felt well on the day! ūüėĀ)

But, generally, I am feeling cautiously optimistic. I have a few Very Good Events to look forward to in 2018. Having a life-threatening disease is great at helping you to value every celebration; every birth and wedding and new start, because there were never any guarantees that you would be around to see them.

And when you have been told by the doctor that you are unlikely to be around for too many more… but I am able to live in the moment and not worry about the future, now that I can’t take having a long life for granted; in a way that nobody who has never been confronted with their imminent mortality just cannot understand. It’s a blessing in disguise, because it helps you to chuck out the junk of life, while holding onto the precious, much more easily.

I know that whatever happens this year, I will be glad that I am here to experience it, even the bad stuff.

If there was one thing that I could wish you, it would be that you could see how amazing this gift of life is: never perfect, often surprising, and far too short to waste worrying about all the junk, like how cool you look on social media. ūüėé


Two years later…

I realised this morning that it’s two years since my double mastectomy.

Thinking about how much has happened in those crazy couple of years, it actually seems much longer. I would love to say that as soon as active treatment was finished, that my family and I went straight back to pre-cancer ‘normal’ life… but that would be a lie. The truth is that nothing is ever quite the same again.

Your illness bubble suddenly bursts (and lots of people ¬†stop praying for you: it’s almost a tangible difference), everyone says how well you look, and you are expected to pick up exactly from where you left off, with nothing more than some scars and shorter hair to mark the ‘journey’.

The reality is so much more complicated and difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.

Perhaps some stats will shed a little light:

“At least 500,000 people in the UK¬†are facing poor health or disability¬†after treatment for cancer ‚Äď

At least 350,000 people living with and beyond cancer are experiencing chronic fatigue.

Around 240,000 are living with¬†mental health problems, which can¬†include moderate to severe anxiety¬†or depression, and post-traumatic¬†stress disorder (PTSD).”

This is a small part of a long list, provided by Macmillan cancer support.

Many relationships break down soon after a cancer diagnosis as well, especially when the patient is a younger woman. And with the hormone treatments that I was on for a while, they are so soul-destroying that the fact that any marriage survives them is a miracle.

Cancer’s slimy fingers reach into every aspect of your life: your health, your mental health, your relationships, your parenting, your career, your finances, your vision of the future, your life expectancy.

I want to say that I am actually very optimistic about the future, and I am not afraid of cancer or even of possibly dying young ¬†(although would rather not); but it’s no use pretending that I am the person that I was before. And Mike and the kids have been through the mill too: their lives have been massively affected and changed too.

The best advice that I could give to anyone who is close to someone with a life-changing illness (or their partner or child) is to be kind, listen and don’t fob them off with “Oh, but you look so well.”

¬†Anyway, I was meant to be talking about my double mastectomy… it’s only boobs, if you have to have one, you’ll get over it, and I would much rather be alive in an imperfect body than be a gorgeous dead person. ūüė䬆

I’m still fabulous, I’m still here, and I’m going to live the best life that I can.¬†




Breast cancer awareness

I drew some doodles for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Bc fitBc menBc youngBc bfeeding



I haven’t written a blog post in ages, so I think it’s time for one.

Many of my blogs have been about trusting God in the really difficult times, or being thankful for the good things.

I don’t remember having written many inbetweeny posts. For those without access to a dictionary, inbetweeny is where things aren’t great and things aren’t horrendous. They are just inbetweeny. I guess that for most of us, with the notable exception of Calamity James, a large percentage of us spend most of our lives in this zone.

So, you may not know that I have been some some health problems for the last few months. I do not believe that they are in any way related to my cancer history, but it has still been unpleasant and draining.

Recently I had some investigations, which included biopsies. The nurse said that one of them was not routine. When you hear those words, some small alarm bells are set off.

I want to say that I am not anxious about this, at least 99% of the time. Having cancer has taught me to give over all this sort of stuff to God, and sharpish. I have learned that I can trust him, no matter how bleak the circumstances. So the last thing that I need to hear from anyone is ‘Be anxious for nothing.’ Thanks dude, but I learned that one the hard way and I don’t need your well-intentioned judging.

That said, show me someone who says that they never get worried about anything, and I’ll show you a liar.

And that’s what I mean by inbetweeny, because of course that’s normal. And it’s in the normal, the job stuff and health concerns and fun weekends and family times and business of life that we really need to learn to put God first. There aren’t many athiests on a lifeboat, and most of us are happy to thank God when life is awesome, but those times are just the bookends.

There are a whole lot of unreported stories, times that we may not photograph or share on Facebook, where we still, as Christians, need to learn to put God first. I’m good at trusting him with the big things, but I need to hand over all the small stuff to him too.

So that’s where I am at the moment: inbetweeny and learning to trust God with the everyday. And whenever I make the effort to focus on him, there he is with me, just like when I woke up after my operation nearly two years ago. Right in the room with us, where he always is even if we don’t notice.