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.

The books I picked & why

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Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

By Suleika Jaouad,

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

Why 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.

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

By Anatole Broyard,

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

Why 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. 

Unexpected Lessons in Love

By Bernardine Bishop,

Book cover of Unexpected Lessons in Love

Why 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. 

A Matter of Death and Life

By Irvin D. Yalom, Marilyn Yalom,

Book cover of A Matter of Death and Life

Why 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.

Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer

By Susan Gubar,

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

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cancer, health, and terminal illnesses?

5,887 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 70 books about cancer
Health Explore 62 books about health
Terminal Illnesses Explore 22 books about terminal illnesses

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Gift of Therapy, Momma and the Meaning of Life, and The Schopenhauer Cure if you like this list.