The best books about getting through cancer treatment

Who am I?

I'm a long-time journalist, wife, mother, and grandmother, who was diagnosed with GYN cancer at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in the spring of 2020. My usual subjects are the arts and trauma, but since I’m now one of the more than 600,000 American women with GYN cancer, I decided to write this report about my year of treatment. 

I wrote...

Getting Through It: My Year of Cancer during Covid

By Helen Epstein,

Book cover of Getting Through It: My Year of Cancer during Covid

What is my book about?

Getting Through It: My Year of Cancer during Covid is for the many women who got in touch with me after they heard I was in treatment. They wanted to hear details and how I came out standing. I took notes on everything: surgery, chemo, radiation, recovery. It takes a village to get through cancer: good doctors, a trustworthy partner, a posse of friends, good luck, good health insurance, faith, and personal strength. Vivian Gornick called my book “absorbing and admirable.” Another reviewer: “A How-To that doesn’t read like a How-To.” I wrote it to be useful to everyone in treatment, their caretakers, families, and friends.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

Why did I love this book?

This is a twenty-something woman's account of her pre-cancer life, her cancer treatment, and its aftermath. I loved it because it gave me a young person’s view of cancer. Educated at Juilliard and Princeton, she is diagnosed with leukemia while starting a career in Paris. Her narrative of treatment (with a one in three chance of success), her relationships with family, friends, and lovers, her encounters with medical and support staff, and fellow patients are clear-eyed. She presents a view of the cancer universe – before, after, and during – and worries about sex and infertility from the viewpoint of a 21st-century woman. Well-written and bracing. And her partner is Jon Batiste.

By Suleika Jaouad,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Between Two Kingdoms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission to re-entry into “normal” life—from the author of the Life, Interrupted column in The New York Times

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Rumpus, She Reads, Library Journal, Booklist • “I was immersed for the whole ride and would follow Jaouad anywhere. . . . Her writing restores the moon, lights the way as we learn to endure the unknown.”—Chanel Miller, The New…

Book cover of Intoxicated by My Illness: And Other Writings on Life and Death

Why did I love this book?

Intoxicated by My Illness is short but well worth reading. I loved his style. A brilliant and witty author and book critic, Broyard discovered a 'brand new infatuation' for life in his mid-40s, when he was diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer. Endlessly quotable – "Sick people need a literature of their own" and "anxiety is the cancer patient's worst enemy – like a catheter inserted into your soul." This very short and wise book often made me smile. 

By Anatole Broyard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Intoxicated by My Illness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anatole Broyard, long-time book critic, book review editor, and essayist for the New York Times, wants to be remembered. He will be, with this collection of irreverent, humorous essays he wrote concerning the ordeals of life and death—many of which were written during the battle with cancer that led to his death in 1990. 

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year 

“A heartbreakingly eloquent and unsentimental meditation on mortality . . . Some writing is so rich and well-spoken that commentary is superfluous, even presumptuous. . . . Read this book, and celebrate a cultured spirit made fine,…

Unexpected Lessons in Love

By Bernardine Bishop,

Book cover of Unexpected Lessons in Love

Why did I love this book?

Unexpected Lessons in Love broke new ground by discussing anal cancer and a colostomy in this autobiographical novel. A former schoolteacher and psychotherapist, she brought long-honed skills of observation and analysis to her compelling and highly readable story, which features mental illness, nuns, a kidnapped journalist, and many complicated family dynamics as well as a mother, wife, and grandmother facing terminal cancer. 

By Bernardine Bishop,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Unexpected Lessons in Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award

Cecilia Banks has a great deal on her plate. But when her son Ian turns up on her doostep with the unexpected consequence of a brief fling, she feels she has no choice but to take the baby into her life. Cephas's arrival is the latest of many challenges Cecilia has to face. There is the matter of her cancer, for a start, an illness shared with her novelist friend Helen. Then there is Helen herself, whose observations of Cecilia's family life reveal a somewhat ambivalent attitude to motherhood. Meanwhile Tim, Cecilia's husband,…

A Matter of Death and Life

By Irvin D. Yalom, Marilyn Yalom,

Book cover of A Matter of Death and Life

Why did I love this book?

A Matter of Life and Death is a deeply personal double memoir, written in alternating chapters by a long-married couple in their late 80s. Irvin Yalom is a psychiatrist and well-respected novelist; Marilyn Yalom, diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2019, was a professor of literature and women's studies. Emotionally intelligent and unusually articulate, the couple was married for 65 years. Though plodding at times, they document in detail the last year of Marilyn's life, from diagnosis to experimental treatment to hospice to physician-assisted death. It is written as a testament as well as a guide.

By Irvin D. Yalom, Marilyn Yalom,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Matter of Death and Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A year-long journey by the renowned psychiatrist and his writer wife after her terminal diagnosis, as they reflect on how to love and live without regret.

Internationally acclaimed psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom devoted his career to counseling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist author Marilyn Yalom, was diagnosed with cancer. In A Matter of Death and Life, Marilyn and Irv share how they took on profound new struggles: Marilyn to die a good death, Irv to live on without her.

In alternating accounts of…

Book cover of Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer

Why did I love this book?

This is a scholarly memoir by a co-author of The Madwoman in the Attic, the feminist literary classic, and a professor of English and women’s studies at Indiana University. She was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer in 2008, then a virtual death sentence. Gubar describes several stages of treatment including "debulking" and chemotherapy and the importance of a loving support system. The writing is sober, well-documented, comprehensive, and, though published ten years ago, all too relevant.

By Susan Gubar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoir of a Debulked Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, Susan Gubar underwent radical debulking surgery, an attempt to excise the cancer by removing part or all of many organs in the lower abdomen. Her memoir mines the deepest levels of anguish and devotion as she struggles to come to terms with her body's betrayal and the frightful protocols of contemporary medicine. She finds solace in the abiding love of her husband, children, and friends while she searches for understanding in works of literature, visual art, and the testimonies of others who suffer with various forms of cancer.

Ovarian cancer remains an incurable disease…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cancer, health, and terminal illnesses?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cancer, health, and terminal illnesses.

Cancer Explore 106 books about cancer
Health Explore 101 books about health
Terminal Illnesses Explore 27 books about terminal illnesses