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Cancer leaves virtually zero lives unaffected. It is, after all, the second-leading cause of death.
Nearly 40 percent of people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute. Not to mention all of their families and friends who will also be impacted by the disease.
From the person living with the disease, to their children, parents, partners, siblings, friends, extended family, and colleagues, cancer’s reach is long and unremitting. The following books may be able to provide some hope, wisdom, and comfort.
1. Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person
Cartoonist Miriam Engelberg was 43 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer Made Me a Shallower Personis a graphic memoir of her journey. The cartoonist, who passed away in 2006, chronicles her experience—from diagnosis to hair loss and everything between—with a healthy dose of humor. Sometimes when dealing with something as serious as cancer, we forget to laugh. This book serves as a good reminder that laughter is possible even in the midst of tragedy.
2. When Breath Becomes Air
When faced with a medical decision, have you ever asked your doctor, “What would you do?” When Breath Becomes Air is the story of a doctor facing the tough diagnosis and decisions of cancer himself. At 36, Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He wrote this memoir as he battled cancer and came to grips with his own mortality. Kalanithi passed away in 2015 while writing the book. His wife, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, MD, FACP, wrote the book’s epilogue.
3. I’m Sorry You Have to Be Here
Wife and mother Lois Bhatt was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at age 39. I’m Sorry You Have To Be Hereis her personal story. Chronicling misdiagnoses, surgeries, and treatments, the book sheds light on the anxiety, fears, and inner turmoil that can affect a woman who is both fighting cancer and parenting small children.
4. A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance
This book is a bit different in that it’s aimed at people who haven’t yet been diagnosed with cancer. Dr. Theodora Ross wrote A Cancer in the Family to help people think through their decisions when it comes to identifying and preventing hereditary cancer: should you get tested, and what do you do when you get the results? Dr. Ross uses her family’s own experience and her clinical experience to walk people through these questions and tough choices.
5. Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to Know
What do you do or say when someone you love is diagnosed with cancer? Journalist Lori Hope began writing Help Me Live by surveying cancer survivors and asking them what they needed from the people around them. With topics ranging from “I want compassion, not pity,” to “I want you to respect my judgment and treatment decisions,” this book is a comprehensive resource, offering the answers to questions a caregiver or friend may not know how to ask.
6. Cancer Vixen
Marisa Acocella Marchetto was a “lipstick-obsessed, wine-swilling” cartoonist when she discovered a lump in her breast. Inspired by her struggles with the disease, the New Yorker cartoonist wrote and illustrated Cancer Vixen. This award-winning graphic novel is full of charm and spirit, chronicling her journey from diagnosis to triumphant resolution.
7. What Helped Get Me Through
Fighting cancer may be the toughest experience you ever have. As someone with a diagnosis, it can be difficult to relay your feelings to people who’ve never been through it. What Helped Me Get Through, edited by breast cancer survivor Julie K. Silver, contains the experiences of hundreds of cancer survivors, all sharing what helped them get through their toughest days. It’s a comforting companion to both folks facing a new diagnosis and the people who surround and love them.
8. Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship
Author and journalist Gail Caldwell’s memoir, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, tracks her deep friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp as the two forge a once-in-a-lifetime bond, only to be shaken by Knapp’s terminal lung cancer diagnosis. A moving read, whether or not your life has been impacted by cancer.
9. Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For
If you’re a professional basketball fan, you probably know of Craig Sager. The long-time television sports announcer was known for his fashion sense and knowledge of the game. In Living Out Loud, he and his son share his battle with acute myeloid leukemia. During his short journey with the disease, Sager’s son was his stem cell donor and fiercest supporter. Unfortunately, the elder Sager lost his battle the month after this book was released.
10. A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science and Cancer
New York journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, a very deadly form of cancer. In the days following her grim diagnosis, she decided to take part in a clinical trial, one with no guarantees. For Williams, the decision proved worthwhile, as the immunotherapy helped her beat cancer. In A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles, she discusses her journey and the vastly different journey of her close friend, diagnosed with cancer at the same time.
11. Through Fire and Rain: Surviving the Impossible with Love, Music, and Precision Medicine
Sometimes life kicks you when you’re down, and sometimes it doesn’t know when to stop. MaryAnn Anselmo, the author of Through Fire and Rain, lost her son in 2012. Just one month later, she and her father were involved in a serious car accident that resulted in the loss of the use of her left vocal cord — a disastrous loss for the professional singer. Then, as if she needed more tragedy, she was diagnosed with a late-stage brain tumor. This book is her story of struggle and victory, of fighting even when you don’t have fight left in you.