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Kalanithi’s words on transition from neurosurgeon to cancer patient to new dad touch millions

Surgeon Paul Kalanithi’s essay about mortality, time’s changeable nature and finding meaning in life despite terminal illness inspired readers from Stanford to England to Germany.

- By Rosanne Spector

Paul Kalanithi
Gregg Segal

Paul Kalanithi died just a few weeks after his essay “Before I Go” was published in the spring issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, but he lived to see it appreciated by thousands. Since his death, his words have reached millions.

On Feb. 24, the day after publication, Longreads.com posted an excerpt on its widely read blog and shared a link through Twitter, and over the next week the essay on the magazine’s website got more than 75,000 hits. Letters to Kalanithi poured in, thanking him for writing, asking permission to use the essay in classrooms and wishing him well. Tweets and blog posts encouraged others to read it: “This should be mandatory reading for humanity: time warps for young surgeon w/ metastatic cancer,” tweeted Harvard physician Neel Shah, MD. 

Sites from The Toast to Reddit praised the essay and the accompanying video featuring Kalanithi, and on March 4 the MSNBC news program “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” aired the video in a segment lauding Kalanithi’s message. Other broadcast outlets followed, including ABC 7 (KGO-TV), NBC and KQED.

The essay has been republished by many media organizations, including The Washington Post, where it has had more than 4 million hits; The Guardian in England; and the Huffington Post’s German edition. The Washington Post distributed it on its wire service, resulting in republication throughout the world.

“The comments are among the most affirming I’ve seen on any of the articles on our site,” wrote The Washington Post’s senior editor for social issues, Sydney Trent, in an email to Stanford Medicine’s editor. “The story has moved and inspired people everywhere!”

On Stanford websites, the essay has had more than 400,000 hits, his obituary has been viewed nearly 900,000 times and the video has been viewed about 184,000 times as of March 20.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit http://mednews.stanford.edu.

2023 ISSUE 1

How social factors make or break us