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Facing the inevitable

Dr Kashyap Patel is a renowned oncologist in the US who works with terminally ill cancer patients. In his book Between Life and Death, we meet Harry, who, after a life full of adventure, is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. As he stares death in the face, Harry leans on Dr Patel, an expert in understanding the process of death and dying. His questions and fears are addressed through the stories of many other patients that Dr Patel has treated-from the young and vivacious to those who had already lived full lives, from patients who could barely afford their rent to those who had been wildly successful. What ties these stories together is the single thread of the lessons Harry learns along the way, lessons that ultimately enable him to plan his own exit from the world gracefully-dying without fear. 

Between Life and Death || Dr Kashyap Patel


Here’s a moving excerpt from the book.


‘Hi, Kashyap, this is John.’

I was taken aback. John never called me at home or on weekends. My wife and I were getting ready to go see my son Maharshi at Duke University and take him out to dinner. The only time John had called during non-business hours was when his mother, Lily, was dying. Before I could solve the puzzle of his unusual timing, I remembered that I had promised John I would help him celebrate his fifth year of remission from cancer. 

‘Hey, John! So good to hear from you. What’s up?’ I was somewhat apologetic as I had been meaning to call him. ‘I was planning a big party for your victory over your cancer. You chased it away! Let me know some dates, and I’ll start getting things together.’ 

There was awkward silence at the other end. 

‘Are you okay? Is everyone all right in your family? I still recall the funny conversations we had at Maharshi’s send-off to join the Blue Devils at Duke. We had a great time.’ 

‘I’m afraid it’s over, Kashyap,’ John said sombrely.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Kashyap, it’s all over,’ John said again. ‘The beast came back with a vengeance a month after we dropped Maharshi off at Duke.’ 

I could feel my heart pounding at his news. ‘Tell me what happened. I know there are many options out there. Latest therapies, new surgical procedures—we can try many things . . .’ 

‘Sorry to interrupt, but I did some of those promising options, and they did not work. I have, maybe, a few weeks. If I’m lucky, a couple of months. So my docs say. They want to keep trying too. But I feel like I’m done with it all. Time for me to move on.’ 

John sounded resigned to the inevitable. ‘I wanted to call you and let you know I have decided to pack my bags and move on, literally and figuratively, away from Charlotte and beyond this human life. Do you remember my beach house at Ocean Isle, where we sailed and had lots of fun with jet skis?’ 

‘Yes, yes, I loved that place. I would love to retire to a place like that.’ My desire now was to cut short the painful parts of the discussion and keep John focused on happier times. 

‘Well,’ John continued, ‘I’m going to retire from work and life to move down there to prepare for my journey beyond this life. I’ve packed my bags. I’ve given away whatever I could, while holding on to a few sweet and sour memories. I wish I could erase all memories and press Ctrl+Alt+Del to reboot the bad memories and enjoy the rest of the days. Never mind. We have to go through our destiny.’ 

‘You sound like a philosopher, my friend! I never knew you were so good at such metaphors!’ 

‘I was and I wasn’t. Time changes everything, Kashyap. I hope you’ll never have to go through what I have been through in my life. I lost everything. My battle against cancer, my sanity, my house and my sweet wife.’ John paused briefly. ‘Now I am patiently awaiting the Grim Reaper’s arrival for me.’ 

Understandably, he sounded discouraged and sad. I had no words to console him, no strength to infuse any optimism into him, no language to ease his anguish. Finally, I gathered the courage and asked, ‘Where are you, John? Can I come and see you right now?’ 

‘Well, I’m moving down to the beach today. Lots to catch up on. I wish I had the time to catch up with you and put some closure to our lives together.’ 


As John was speaking, Robert Frost’s words were ringing in my ears: 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep And I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep. 

‘Listen, Kashyap, I wanted to say goodbye, forever, for sure.’ His voice sounded choked. ‘Please convey my love to Alpa, Maharshi, TJ, Bobby, Charles and Jim.’ 

‘John, I will visit you at the beach as soon as I can.’ 

‘I may not be alive then. See if you can. If not, I sure will wait for you in unknown lands, maybe in heaven. Goodbye for now.’ 

John hung up. 


Between Life and Death shows us how we can learn to accept the inevitable with grace and courage.

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