Six months before Dr. Kalanithi's cancer diagnosis he developed significant weight loss and "ferocious" back pain. The 36-year-old neurosurgeon said that for a patient with those symptoms, "the obvious answer would be (C) cancer."
Kalanithi's doctor ordered plain x-rays, an insensitive test. The results were normal, so they attributed his symptoms to "hard work and an aging body." For months Kalanithi rationalized his symptoms, even as they worsened and new symptoms developed.
Kalanithi knew he likely had cancer. Yet instead of pushing for further evaluation, he kept working until he was debilitated. Of note, his doctor-wife also worried yet didn't push him to see a doctor.
MyJanuary 22nd post introduces Kalanithi as an example of a Healthy Survivor. What did he say about anyone's role in the delayed diagnosis?
Nothing. Not a single word about blame or guilt. Why?
Here's my guess, based on reading everything he's published and my experiences as a physician, patient and writer: He let it go, knowing that blame and guilt wouldn't help him get good care or live as fully as possible. Those feelings would only poison life-enhancing relationships and activities.
Whatever thoughts and feelings he had about the delay were insignificant compared to the insights about life and death that he chose to share before he died.
Healthy Survivors let go of guilt and blame. Next: What if it's not easy to let go of guilt?