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.
6. Model Patient: My Life As an Incurable Wise-Ass by Karen Duffy
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
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.