The best books that go beyond the diagnosis: how relationships are affected by cancer

Who am I?

Being diagnosed with an incurable cancer and told I may only live 5-years forced me to become an expert in the misconceptions of how to behave and what to say to cancer patients. It’s all bunk! What I know: (1) Don’t tell me “Call if you need anything.” I’m the one who’s sick, you need to call me. (2) Please don’t patronize me; I live in reality, not the land of rainbows, unicorns, and miracles. (3) It’s okay not to know what to say; I’m as blown away as you are. What patients need is honesty, present and available support, and laughter – a lot of it.

I wrote...

Voices of Cancer: What We Really Want, What We Really Need

By Lynda Wolters,

Book cover of Voices of Cancer: What We Really Want, What We Really Need

What is my book about?

Exploring the unsayable thoughts, needs, and desires of people diagnosed with cancer, this book features real-life experiences and what people with cancer endure every day. The Voices of Cancer is a rich and enlightening, deeply moving book that is fraught with information on cancer.

The Voices of Cancer captures the inner worlds of people afflicted by the disease and provides insights that will inspire the right attitude of mind in both cancer patients and those close to them. A fantastic resource for both patients and non-patients, The Voices of Cancer is a book for anyone who wants to know what it is like to live with cancer and how to endure, in spite of the odds.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Henry's Sisters

By Cathy Lamb,

Book cover of Henry's Sisters

Why this book?

Can I please give this book an extra star? I cried, I laughed, and wow, did I smile while reading Henry’s Sisters.

Henry is a special needs person, glue of the family, and the youngest child. The sisters are a famous photographer and professional one-night stander, Isabelle, her angry, food addicted, kindergarten teaching twin, Cecilia, and Janie, an OCD best-selling crime novelist who invents twisted ways to kill her characters. The cast is rounded out by stripper mom, and Amelia Earhart (grandma has dementia).

Rife for disaster with sharp wit and heartache, the family is busy navigating their tortuous past when Henry is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The dialogue shifts leaving the reader begging for Henry to live and applauding his choice to die. This book is how cancer affects a family.

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home

By Tembi Locke,

Book cover of From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home

Why this book?

Ms. Locke traverses the myriad of emotions dealing with grief following the loss of her husband to cancer in this non-fiction book. Ms. Locke, a budding actress, takes the reader along with her and her young daughter as she travels back to Sicily, her husband’s birthplace, to spend time with and learn from his family.

From Scratch is about beginnings, life after cancer, life after loss, life all over again. Ms. Locke tells a wonderful story that will captivate the reader while allowing them to feel her pain and anguish. Ms. Locke easily expresses herself as a wife, a mother, and an unaccepted daughter-in-law during her husband’s illness. She is honest and forthright–no one gets a pass. Ms. Locke flawlessly depicts the ravages of cancer. From Scratch is well-worth the read.

In Five Years

By Rebecca Serle,

Book cover of In Five Years

Why this book?

In full disclosure, I don’t normally pick up mid-20-year-old protagonist books; I’m in my 50’s. I don’t normally relate. In this case, however, I related. It was a good book, solid, entertaining and recommendable.

And here’s where it gets weird – not the book, the fact that the author wrote my life, sort of. When the young protagonist finds her friend dying from cancer, she cracks, and the emotions, thoughts, experiences are so relatable; hauntingly so, I felt as if she were a friend of mine going through my cancer story. This book takes a time travel twist, but don’t let it throw you, it’s worth the read.


By Julie Cantrell,

Book cover of Perennials

Why this book?

What a wonderful, moral-rich, non-preachy, feel-good, tapped several of the big societal issues (adultery, death, divorce, pride, bullying, regret, work vs. family; you get the point), without ever once making me squirm with too many religious overtones, or want to run off to confess my improprieties. As a flower child at heart, I loved the continual nuances of people and growth compared to good soil and water, seasons, and blooms. This book was beautifully done.

When the matriarch of a loving family is diagnosed with cancer and determined to live out her days without treatment, there are twists and turns of reality that make this book a must-read. I too, nearly chose the path of non-treatment and this book resonates.

Well done, Julie Cantrell!

The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green,

Book cover of The Fault in Our Stars

Why this book?

A timeless, iconic story of teens Hazel and Augustus, both fighting cancers. The book is a devastatingly real depiction of anyone diagnosed who has yet to fulfill their dreams; especially, youngsters. The tone is raw and honest, hard-hitting, and clever. The reality hits the survivor’s guilt chord head-on when the one who wasn’t supposed to succumb first, does. Anyone who has been diagnosed will know this feeling when they ‘outlive’ one of their co-fighters.

Hazel and Augustus easily show the world by their innocent ideals, how difficult, mature, and brave a person must be to stand by a terminally ill loved one. Read this book, you will not regret it and it will change you. And, your cancer-afflicted friends and family will thank you.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cancer, life satisfaction, and Manhattan?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cancer, life satisfaction, and Manhattan.

Cancer Explore 70 books about cancer
Life Satisfaction Explore 120 books about life satisfaction
Manhattan Explore 62 books about Manhattan

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Anne Frank, The Book Thief, and Eleanor & Park if you like this list.