Things that helped during chemotherapy: books about cancer

cancer books

I always loved to read books. Since my diagnosis, I started to read both books about cancer, and cancer memoirs, and both helped to understand the illness, and get an idea what to expect after the diagosis. Also, it really helped to read about about  the emotions and thoughts other patients faced, and how they dealt with them. Here are two books that stood out for me:

“The Emperor of Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This is the story of cancer and the research about it, written in a fascinating and intriguing way. The book wraps up countless historical and medical happenings / discoveries / developmenents and details, and the personal stories of doctors, scientists and patients. Here’s a review about it:

“The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.

Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer. It was described, by the magazine Time, as one of the 100 most influential books of the last 100 years, and by the New York Times magazine as among the 100 best works of non-fiction.”
(more at Goodreads & Guardian review)

Reading it gave me a clearer understanding about how cancer works, and how the treatments are working. Since the 1950ies, scientists and doctors are confident that they can develop a cure soon. But so far, that didn’t happen – it’s a complicated task, as cancer is not a virus or bacteria that comes from “outside” and thus can be targeted by medicine directly. It’s own body cells that stop to function properly. They ignore the balance system of our body, and start to duplicate out of their normal cycle of cell growth. Here’s the short definition of this complex cellular drama, from wikipedia: “Cancers are a large family of diseases which involve abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.”

The line also tells about the problem of curing cancer: you can’t really target those cells directly, as they are not that much different from normal body cells. And in the beginning, it is hard to identify cancer – the cell growth produces no symptoms. Signs and symptoms only appear as the mass continues to grow and spread, and even then, few symptoms are specific. (The advantage with breast cancer is that you can feel it at some point.) As for the cure: the concept of chemotherapy is to catch the cancer cells by stopping their cell growth, as this is a characteristic behaviour for them. But the medication affects the growth of other body cells, too, especially those that also have a higher growth rate: like hair, skin, mucous membranes: that’s why side effects include loss of hair, skin problems, stomach problems, etc.

This year, the book now turned into a tv series, with an accompanying website that includes a timeline, resources and personal stories:
Website: Cancer – The Emperor of all Maladies 


“Life Unexpected: A Trauma Psychologist Journeys through Breast Cancer” by Naomi Baum

This is new book, written by a therapist who had to go through cancer, and reflected on that time afterwards. In the book description, she writes: “it shares her journey and the practical wisdom gained through difficult personal experience, beginning with diagnosis books-cancer_naomi_baumand moving through surgery, chemo and radiation.”

The special thing about the book is that it includes pages with advice at the end of each chapter, and that is written in reflection, starting at the end of her treatment, and then going through it from the start.

There’s also a beautiful poem included which someone wrote for her, the core of it is about being at peace in the midst of the difficulties, and keeping ones dignity through it, and a joy for life despite of all. It spoke to me. It is based on a journey prayer:

Prayer Upon Embarking on the Journey of Healing

May it be Your will, merciful and healing higher power, to lead me on this journey in peace, to accompany me in peace, to stand by my side and to give me life, health, happiness and peace. Give me the strength to bear this cancer with dignity, and the power to endure it and be healed. Protect me from pain, sadness and despair, and from all the discomforts that are drawing near. Send skill, wisdom and understanding to my doctors and nurses, Your faithful messengers, to sow goodness and light in my body. Help the chemicals accurately do their work, rooting out disease and bringing compassion to the healthy parts of my body making room for the good to strengthen and take root…

Naomi Baum also has a website that includes a blog, an interview, and also the chemo prayer, here’s the link: Naomi Baum 



The Other “Things”, Blogging & Links:
This is the third “things that helped” post, the first is: Things that helped during chemotherapy: Walking and the second is Things that helped during chemotherapy: art therapy.  I will continue this series with the other “things” that help me get through chemotherapy step by step, and look for articles and links, too. One thing that helped to get through the cycles of chemotherapy definitely is: blogging. Here is a longer blog post on how things are currently, the post also leads back to the start of my diagnosis: “Intense, or: anger, hope, spring & the larger picture”


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