The Best Books About Cancer
Like with most life-altering, traumatic, and generally difficult situations, gathering information is the best plan of action post-diagnosis. The below books offer priceless information on everything from navigating an onslaught of medical and healthcare-related confusion, to coping with the unbearable and inevitable grief that comes with losing a loved one. To round out the list, we asked Dr. Sedeghi for his recommendations as well.
A lifesaving resource for anyone dealing with serious illness (firsthand or otherwise), this manual of sorts should really be required reading for everyone. Written by Leslie D. Michelson, who has spent the bulk of his career advocating for and educating patients on getting the most out of a flawed health care system, The Patient’s Playbook is brimming with practical information on everything from collecting all necessary medical records, picking the right doctor, and the important questions to ask once you’ve settled on a specialist.
Pulitzer Prize winning science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee’s comprehensive history of cancer covers a lot of bases: the first recorded case of cancer, early attempts at radiation therapy, along with the ongoing search for a cure. It’s a universally compelling—and refreshingly optimistic—read for anyone dealing with or simply curious about the disease.
Cancer survivor and The New Yorker cartoonist, Marisa Acocella Marchetto is something of a hero for figuring out a successful approach to lending much-needed comic relief to a sad subject. Her best-selling graphic novel chronicles her 11-month battle with breast cancer and coming out the other side (vixen, rather than victim).
This is feminist writer and English professor, Susan Gubar’s brutally honest and graphic account of suffering through, and ultimately surviving, ovarian cancer—part of the grueling treatment involves the awful debulking operation that lent her memoir its title. It’s unapologetically emotional and can be difficult to read at times, but absolutely worth the tears.
Both heartbreaking and irresistibly lovely, this moving memoir tells the story of editor Will Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Anne, who began an impromptu book club after she was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment. While it initially started as a way to pass the hours in waiting rooms for chemo, it became a doorway for them to talk about their life together.
A Widow’s Guide to Healing: Gentle Advice and Support for the First 5 Years by Kristin Meekhoff (out November 3rd)
The mere thought of loosing a spouse can send anyone into a tailspin, so it’s understandable that after the somewhat sudden death of her husband when she was in her early ’30s, Kristen Meekhoff felt hopeless and alone. Once she emerged from the haze of grief, she realized that in addition to the raw pain, what many widows feel is utterly misunderstood. Her book is part tactical survival manual, and part etiquette guide for what to say—and not to say—to a widow.
Loosing a loved one is indescribably difficult, but the loss of a mother has a profound life-altering and long-lasting effect on daughters, regardless of age or relationship. This modern-day classic explores the painful experience through a series of interviews with motherless daughters from all walks of life and has the potential to serve as a security blanket of sorts for anyone dealing with this particular brand of grief.
Spiritual Strength & Support
This is the kind of classic that ends up dog-eared and marked up—you’ll find countless quotes and insights relating to all stages of a spiritual journey. Myss’ comments about negativity and its roots in and affect on disease are incredibly powerful tools for those going through a period of suffering—be it emotional or physical.
Reading Michael Singer’s seminal work on spirituality and inner peace is a transformative experience. Singer’s wisdom encourages the separation of thought and emotion from the sense of self, an effective strategy for working with the ebbs and flows of your inner energy. It’s an incredible resource for powering through the difficult “why me?” moments associated with life’s most difficult struggles.
Chicken Soup for the Soul was on the forefront of the modern spirituality and self-help genre, and it still looms large today, more than twenty years later. The Cancer Survivor’s edition assembled stories from hundreds of cancer survivors—it may seem like a trite title these days, but there’s nothing like this original to restore your faith in the goodness of those around you.
Trying to say the right thing, actually being helpful, and generally providing support in the face of a serious diagnosis can be a fumbling and awkward mess for even the most well-intentioned friends. Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote this comprehensive guide after getting through her own bout with breast cancer—the collective wisdom is gleaned from her own experience and those of her fellow patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Her frank (and often humorous) writing style is enormously comforting.
Dr. Sedeghi’s Picks
When motivational speaker Wayne Dyer asked parents to submit their children’s stories about their experiences in heaven before being born, the response was overwhelming. His book compiles intriguing accounts of their recollections, spending time with deceased family members and even God. Though not outwardly religious, it offers spiritual insights into universal love and what goes on outside the physical world.
After a seizure, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander fell into a coma for seven days—doctors thought he would never wake up, so his sudden recovery was considered a medical miracle. This book provides an account of those seven days from Alexander’s perspective, recounting images and interactions from of his out-of-body experience in what he believes to be heaven in remarkable detail.
Cancer: What I Wish I Had Known When I Was First Diagnosed: Tips And Advice From a Survivor by Michele Ryan
Michele Ryan has lived through a nightmare: after surviving breast cancer herself, she nursed her late husband through terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her incredibly helpful book reads like a how-to for handling the practical issues associated with a diagnosis, from understanding your health insurance to telling your children and family.
The Gerson Therapy: The Proven Nutritional Program for Cancer and Other Illnesses by Charlotte Gerson and Morton Walker
Charlotte Gerson’s guide walks patients through the healing therapy she and her father developed over decades—the famed diet is organic and vegetarian, anchored by a healthy dose of raw juice and other natural supplements. With the support of a doctor, The Gerson Therapy can be implemented alongside conventional treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Suffering from late-stage cancer, Anita Moorjani descended into a coma and was declared terminal by her doctors, only to re-emerge after an out-of-body experience in what she describes as the “state” of heaven. Her true story relays the lessons that cancer taught her about herself and about the preciousness of life. Her message to spread love, joy, and hope is deeply inspiring.