Saturday, September 4, 2010

Top 10 Books for Cancer Patients

Continuing my list-making into these early days of September, here is my list of the best books for cancer patients and their supporters. The list is biased toward practical lifestyle advice over individual narratives, and of course, unique to my own personal situation. Still, I hope that my particular list has some universal application.

Top 10 Books for Cancer Patients and Their Supporters

10. It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong
One of the first books I read after diagnosis, Lance's book didn't move me as much as some other narratives have. And it's hard for me to look at his cancer experience in a vacuum (I mean, he dated an Olsen twin - that's sorta antithetical to the kind of role model that I'm looking for). Still, as author Kairol Rosenthal writes, "Since Lance's balls and bike became public, we no longer speak about cancer in hushed tones." Lance Armstrong's contribution to movement building for cancer education, awareness, research, and treatment has been critical to all our well-being. And his LiveStrong Foundation and network can trace much of their success to the popularity of his book.
9. Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen
This book was a gift from my dad's friend Arnie, and has been a very powerful resource as I continue to explore the many definitions and means of healing.
8. Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag
In a subtle way, Illness As Metaphor provided my foundation of understanding of how my illness is perceived by others, and has given me some context for explaining why I find the romanticized cancer gaze and narrative most prevalent in our culture, so personally troubling. It was also a really well-written, informative book.
7. Crazy, Sexy, Cancer Tips by Kris Carr
Full disclosure: I haven't read all of Crazy, Sexy, Cancer, or seen the entire film, or read every post on Kris Carr's blog. But Crazy, Sexy, Cancer seemed worthy of the list because I like her message and means, and deeply admire her spirit and approach. Most importantly, Crazy, Sexy, Cancer is a source that many people deeply relate to, especially younger women.
My friend Barbara gave me this book by former MTV VJ, actress and model Karen Duffy, when I was first diagnosed. It was the first book I read about a young woman facing a serious illness, who handled it with her own brand of humor and dignity and it made me feel hopeful that I could do the same.
5. Life Over Cancer by Dr. Keith Block
Dr. Block created the Block program for fighting cancer for people who are at different places along the cancer continuum. It's a comprehensive plan that patients can implement themselves, incorporating holistic principles without asking patients to chose between "conventional treatment" and other approaches. You don't have to follow the plan by rote - you can glean some of the great lessons to incorporate into your own plan. I have found it valuable in this way.
4. Everything Changes by Kairol Rosenthal
I've only just finished this book, which has been regularly recommended since my diagnosis but I hadn't picked up. It is #4 on this list, but in terms of books that provided emotional catharsis, it is my #1. There were several times in the process of reading it that I had the surreal feeling that somehow Rosenthal had read my journal, and had to confirm that I was not the subject of a particular case she was writing about. That is precisely why her book is such a gift: I heard my own voice and my own experiences reflected in so many different aspects of her book that it made me feel less lonely, understood, heard. That's a pretty big lift for a book, but time and again, young people with cancer express just that after they read Everything Changes.
3. Cancer as a Turning Point by Lawrence Lashan
A wise woman has often said to me during these past few years, that, for better or worse, I will never go back to being the person I was before I had cancer. That is an essential truth of this experience which is mainly about the emotional and mental consequences. Cancer as a Turning Point focuses on these aspects of health. I think this book is one of the best for caregivers and loved ones, as well as for cancer patients, and is one of the best resources for utilizing the mind-body connection to fight cancer.
2. Choices In Healing by Michael Lerner
One of the worst moments in my cancer journey was when I asked my oncologist at GW what else I could be doing to make myself healthier besides chemotherapy and radiation, and he said, "nothing." This book is the antidote to the sting of his reply. It's the foundation for alternative and supplemental healing approaches and choices.
1. Anti-Cancer by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber
I stumbled upon this book when I was at Borders buying a gift. There it was - starring at me from a shelf. I picked it up, began reading and felt like it was fate. I have used it somewhat like a textbook since then, trying to outline a blueprint for the lifestyle changes that likely reduce risk of cancer and slow it's growth. Anti-Cancer was a gateway to all of the other resources I have explored since, partially by dint of being the first book that introduced these topics to me, but largely because it is such a perfect explanation of complex science, distilled for lay-people.


Emily Pearl Goodstein said...

i love these posts. thanks for sharing such helpful resources with the wold and using your blog to not only inform but inspire and comfort. xo

Kairol Rosenthal said...

Your blog just came up on my google alert. I have a nice smile on my face after reading your review of my book Everything Changes. Thanks for writing about it and sharing it with others.

From the little bit I've gleaned from your profile here, you sound like an incredible woman - civil rights lobbyist and rabbi to-be? You might be my new role model.

I'm wishing you as smooth of a ride as possible with your cancer care. Through researching my book I have become extremely well connected in the cancer community. Please let me know if there is ever anything I can do to be of help to you or connect you to others who can.


Kairol Rosenthal

Elissa said...

Kairol, what an honor to read this comment from you! I would love to speak with you about some of the recommendations and resources you know of - is the best way to reach you through your blog/website? Thank you for your kind words.

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Ben said...

Nice list, thanks! And may I be so bold as to put mine in at #11...Lessons from Left Testicle. Using humour to survive a tumour.

Thanks : )

Cameron VSJ said...


I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?




Anonymous said...

Thanks, this a great help.

Glenn Lofy said...

Elissa, Please check out my book on my wife's experience with pancreatic cancer. It's called Onward and Forward and its available on Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Barnes and Noble-Nook Book, and Kobi. My name is Glenn Lofy. Thank you for being you.

Ritch Gaiti said...

"Welcome to CancerLand" is a very funny, very true account of my journey with Cancer. It is informative, positive way of dealing with cancer through optimism and humor.
A excerpt:

“Think of it this way,” my Thoracic Surgeon explained. “The right lung is divided into three sections, called lobes. Each is about the size of a folded up slice of pizza.”
He saw the curious look on my face.
“Regular, not Sicilian,” he clarified. “It’s very hard to fold Sicilian slices.”
I nodded; clearly he had been trained well.

Available (ebook and paperback) on Amazon. ISBN-10: 0692636803 Author Ritch Gaiti, Publisher Sedona Editions, published 2015.