Applying life lessons I learned from reading to my IPF journey

How books have helped me navigate life with IPF and transplant

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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Have you ever read a book that totally resonated with you? One that reflects who you are and enables you to see yourself in the words? I love to read a variety of genres but tend to lean toward self-improvement, technical publications, and real-life stories.

A longtime friend of mine, following her successful career in the federal government, began writing a series of books titled “Everybody Loves Grace.” The author, Katy McQuaid, shares how her dog Grace had a unique gift that invited people to pause for a moment and love Grace.

More recently, McQuaid published “Humble Yet Fierce: My Life Behind the Curtain of the CIA,” the story of her career in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Her books feature very different types of stories, but they’re all incredibly insightful and relatable to me.

Some decades ago (no need to do the math), I thoroughly enjoyed reading anything by Robert Fulghum, an American author and a Unitarian minister by trade. One book in particular spoke to me: “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” first published in 1986. It reminded me to live a mindful life. When I retired from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in the summer of 1997, this book was the basis of my retirement speech.

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When friends guide the way through the dark days of transplant

So what?

When I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in January 2017, my world was turned upside down. When I had to stop working in September of that year, it wasn’t what I’d expected to be doing at age 59. When I received my bilateral lung transplant in July 2021, it was a second chance, thanks to the gift of life made possible by my donor.

Fulghum’s book has been a part of my professional and personal life, but it’s also been a part of my IPF journey. Through a series of short essays, Fulghum presents lessons he believes will get readers through life. They’re not rules, but rather guiding principles. You can read them at the link above. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

There is so much good advice about life and relationships in this book. Think about those lessons; do any remind you of your pulmonary fibrosis (PF) journey?

Fulghum wrote, “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” To me, that lesson is the figurative description of the PF community. We are better together and stronger when we look out for one another.

Fulghum shared another lesson: “Live a balanced life — learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”

This has been challenging for me. I’ve improved, but I continue to work on creating a balanced life. I believe it’s common for those of us on this PF journey to obsess about the disease. My wife, Susan, who has been with me from the beginning, has helped remind me of the need for balance.

For example, I had the habit of letting medical appointments take priority over all else in our lives. I had to learn to say a day wouldn’t work for me if an appointment would create a conflict with another event in our lives. My medical appointments are a priority, but not at the expense of everything else. Making time for other important opportunities helps me lead a balanced life and honor my donor’s gift.

All the rest

Fulghum’s other lessons are not to be overlooked. I can relate all of them to something I’ve experienced on my IPF journey. Really, who can argue with the comfort provided by warm cookies and cold milk (or Lactaid)?

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” is a quick-start guide to life that has helped me make every breath count.

If you see a parallel between one of Fulghum’s lessons and your PF journey, please share it in the comments below.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Terri Gordy avatar

Terri Gordy

Thanks for sharing the name of the book! I just ordered a paperback copy from Amazon.

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton


Thanks for reading my column ad for your note. Let me know what you think of the book.



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