Books We Like

Graphic Novels

Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, by Miriam Engleberg is graphic novel that is funny, true and easy to read. I laughed out loud at parts of it.

Cancer Vixen: A True Story, by Marisa Acocella Marchetto (graphic novel)

Relatively Indolent but Relentless: A Cancer Treatment Journal, by Matt Freedman.  Graphic journal of 60 days of treatment for throat cancer. Written while  he was experiencing it. Grueling but not grim.

My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinsons, by Dunlap-Shohl. Graphic/comic memoir. Upbeat. It’s not about cancer, but about coping.



A Series of Catastrophies and Miracles is written by journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams. It focuses on her cancer journey and coping as she successfully participates in melanoma treatment clinical trials, while a friend is dying of cancer.

When Breath Becomes Air is written by Paul Kalinithi, a brain surgeon who had a master’s in literature and stage IV liver cancer. It’s touching and is a reflection on his death and the meaning of his life. Click here to read an essay he wrote shortly before he died, Before I go.

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks is a  set of 4 essays he wrote right before he died – again the focus is on a life well lived and finding meaning in death.
In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer by Teva Harrison, a stand up comic.

A Diary of Healing: My Intense and Meaningful Life With Cancer, by Mary Ann Wasil was called honest, real, scary and hysterically funny by Oprah Magazine.

Community Chest, by Natalie Serber. A Portland writer who teaches memoir, she recounts her diagnosis and experience with breast cancer.

In the Body of the World:  A Memoir of Cancer and Connection, by Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues. Author witnesses devastation of war in Congo, especially effects on women. Then she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer. She connects her illness with the devastation of the earth.

Memoir of a Debulked Woman, by Susan Gubar. Writer/professor experiences her cancer treatment (ovarian) as violent and degrading. Grim. I found this book infuriating. I recommend by the same author Reading and Writing Cancer.

It’s Always Something, by Gilda Radner. Comedian’s story of her ovarian cancer.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home, by Gail Caldwell. Memoir by a woman whose best friend dies of cancer.

I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro. Another memoir by a comedian with cancer. You can also view her stand-up comedy special about cancer. See a sneak preview here.

Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir, by David Rieff. His mother, Susan Sontag, refuses to acknowledge she’s dying and pursues treatment til the very end. REALLY grim! This book is interesting to read after reading  Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, by Sontag.

Scanziety: A Retrospection of a Lung Cancer Survivor, by Tom Galli. Long time survivor of Stage IV. Details of treatment. Available only on Kindle.

C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too, by John Diamond. Journalist/ broadcaster with oral and throat cancer.  Recommended. Good book, very well written.

Essays and Other Writing

The Median is Not the Message, by Stephen J Gould. In his 1985 landmark essay Mr. Gould described his response to a diagnosis of abdominal mesothelioma, an incurable disease “with a median mortality of only eight months after discovery.” An evolutionary biologist, he set out to use his knowledge of statistics to counter the widespread anxiety of cancer patients about their chances of surviving. This looks at the variations within statistics and helps put these types of numbers and conclusions into context that is more useful to the individual.

On the Two Kinds of Decay, by Sarah Manguso discusses her diagnosis and treatment for not cancer, but chronic illness. Here is an essay about it.


The Cancer Journals, by Audre, Lorde.  Essays and excerpts from journals of African-American poet.  Moving between journal entry, memoir, and exposition, Audre Lorde fuses the personal and political as she reflects on her experience coping with breast cancer and a radical mastectomy.

My Butterfly Girl, by Annette White-Parks. Mother writes of daughter’s death from gynological cancer. Self-published by Portland writer. Grim.

Cancer and Treatment Resources & Guides

The New Generation Breast Cancer Book: How to Navigate Your Diagnosis and Treatment Options-and Remain Optimistic-in an Age of Information Overload by Dr. Elisa Port

The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook by Kathy Steligo ( Get the latest updated version for 2017)