Cancer Book Club & Other Favorite Reads

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to break my technology addiction and my first course of action was banning devices from my bedroom. Instead of watching something on my iPad as I fall asleep, I replaced the activity with reading (real books) and have never felt more well rested, energetic and sharp. It’s made me realized how much I’ve missed reading like I did when I was younger. Plus, I’ve read over 45 books this year!

Naturally, some of these books are about cancer.  They consist of either memoirs or “how-to’s” on surviving. Below you’ll find a random, incomplete list my favorites to-date to serve as suggestions if you’re looking for inspiration.

rufusDie Young With Me by Rob Rufus. Read this if you’re a young adult impacted by cancer, lover of punk music and/or don’t subscribe to the kumbaya-ness that often accompanies illness. Personally, I’m a little partial to this story since Rufus and I both live in Nashville and are cancer surviving writers, who aren’t afraid of a few f-bombs.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi. It’s sad, it’s profound, but most of all, it’s beautifully written. Read my complete review here.

Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani. Read this book if you believe in miracles or want to believe in miracles by a first hand experience.

radzwillWhat Remains by Carole Radzwill. Another weeper, but the prose is incredible. I found this memoir of loss an example of what our caregivers endure along our side because they are often the forgotten trauma survivors.

Crazy Sexy Cancer by Kris Carr. Read this if you are a newly diagnosed woman and/or interested in means of healing through food, alternative treatments, etc. Better yet, watch the documentary or an episode of Carr on Super Soul Sunday.  

41b5V0a3aFL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I Have Cancer and Never Felt Better by Tracy Krulik. Check this out if you’re a fellow pNET, especially if you’re about to go into surgery. I devoured this before my distal pancreatomy and it provided me with many important questions I would have not otherwise asked.

Now, this all being said, I have set up some rules for cancer reading, which may not always be a relaxing escape.

  1. Memoirs only before bed. Rule 1a – the person has to be alive. Rule 1b – it can’t be a section where the subject is talking about a similar trauma (chemo, nausea, etc.) Bringing those feelings and memories to the surface have no place in my bedroom.
  2. No cancer reads on vacation. Time away is officially a cancer-free zone in my family.

Don’t want to read about cancer? Yeah, me neither. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is my all-time favorite book, ever. The prose is out of this world and tells the story of an immigrant family’s struggle of retaining their culture versus assimilating to America. If you like this book, Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is also worth the time. It was Lahiri’s first book and won the Pulitzer Prize if you needed any further nudging. There’s also a movie based on The Namesake, which, for the first time ever, does justice to the book.

The Moth Presents all These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown. Read my complete review here. Okay, so there are a few stories about cancer, but they are happy ones.

patchettCommonwealth by Ann Patchett. God, I love Ann Patchett. She lives in Nashville and owns a bookstore I frequent. Between you and I, I sometimes hang out there just to catch a glimpse of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thinks I’m a stalker. I just kind of want to soak up some of her genius by breathing the same air.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. An interesting memoir of escaping and growing up in poor Appalachia.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. A novel an African immigrant family trying to make it in New York City. While this story is fiction, I think it portrays the sacrifices and lengths that foreigners will go to to achieve the American Dream.

If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my Goodread’s list, which has the last few years of books with ratings.

Also, my “to-read” list is primarily comprised of recommendations from others, so if you have a book that’s touched your life, please share by commenting below.

Up next in the cancer category is Radical Remission by Kelly Turner, Everyday I Fight by Stewart Scott, A Walk with Purpose by Michael Becker and The Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight.

Happy Reading!

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Creating My Cancer Posse

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As featured on curetoday.com

When diagnosed, I ate up books by inspirational survivors who shared their tips and tricks for making it through the cancer maze. One of my favorite cancer surthrivers is Kris Carr, who starred in the documentary “Crazy Sexy Cancer” and went on to write several books on healthy living, such as “Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips.”  I flipped it open and agreed with every sentence, up to the part where she suggested I create a “Cancer Posse” consisting of other survivors like myself. Immediately the record player in my head scratched and I said, “No thanks, not for me.”

Before cancer, I considered myself pretty tough. I ran a marathon, placed first in a sprint triathlon and hiked across a country carrying everything on my back.  I’ve always enjoyed my solitude and these achievements were completed alone and by choice. So, when several people suggested I join a support group, it sounded like self torture. Plus, my perception of cancer survivors was that they were thin, sad, sick, bald, weak people and I cringed at the thought of sitting in a church basement, in a circle of tears asking, “Why me,” while others rubbed my back. Those are not my people, I thought.

(Keep reading – I’m going to eat my words.)

However, I was thirsty for information and found an online group of other pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor survivors on Inspire.com. Without even realizing, I had joined a support group. After a month of participating in online discussions, the members encouraged me to seek a specialist. Their insistence and physician recommendations resulted in a consultation with one of the top neuroendocrine cancer doctors in the country, who provided me with a good game plan. I thought of support groups as outlets for emotions, but the fact that they could be a place to exchange valuable information had never occurred to me. In my case, I found this online group to be more knowledgeable about my disease than most doctors.

Then a year ago, I got pretty sick from cancer and treatments. My friends and family were desperate to help, but none of them really understood what I was going through. Cancerland had a population of one and left me wishing I would’ve created that cancer posse.

One day, in the midst of my treatment chaos, I posted an update on Facebook and an acquaintance from long ago immediately sent me a message sharing her story and offering support. I knew she had also been through treatment and could relate. From that point on, we exchanged messages and texts checking in on each other. Eventually, she came to town and we met up for two hours and talked non-stop about cancer, commisterating about doctors, wait times, side effects and weird things that happened to our bodies. Wow, did it feel good! I had the first official member of my cancer posse. Since then, this friend moved to my city and I’ve added a couple more members to my crew. I hang out with these friends all the time and we almost never talk about cancer. Not only do they make me feel less self conscious about my unusually short hair and protruding chest port, but it’s comforting to be a phone call away from someone who gets it.

So, I hereby retract my disdain for support groups. These days, they are much more than sitting in a circle and crying. They provide a sense of comradery, make you feel less alone, share helpful information and are full of people who have deep empathy. I realized your posse doesn’t have to be traditional. It just has to be one that works for you.

As for me, I still haven’t joined a live, local support group, but I have my own, unconventional posse consisting of a small, select group of friends and hundreds online in the neuroendocrine cancer community who are always to happy to share their decades of wisdom.

Now, let me publicly apologize to anyone who has ever faced cancer for calling them thin, sad, sick, bald and weak. Before diagnosis, I considered myself very strong, but chemotherapy and cancer brought me cowering to my knees. If I had only known then, what I know now, that cancer fighters are some of the strongest, baddest, toughest people on this planet. I’m humbled and grateful to be among them because they are my people.

Read my other Cure articles here.

Finding Inspiration in Illness

There were some pretty dark days over the past year and I’m often asked how I kept a positive attitude. Well, if you were with me during those times, you’d know I wasn’t always a ray of sunshine. Fortunately, positivity is built into the core of who I am, so during the bad days, I clung to hope and believing my healing was possible.

In my recent Curetoday.com article, Defeating Cancer Using the Law of Attraction, I shared the activities of my law of attraction practice which helped me gain control of my health emotionally, mentally and spiritually. But, sometimes we need to see and hear real life stories of people who are on the other side of difficult health situations, such as cancer.

Here are some of my favorite videos, books and websites full of inspirational, odd defying journeys.  

The Connection
An insightful documentary explaining the science behind the mind and body connection. The film follows several people who overcome dire circumstances, such as cancer, heart disease and infertility, using integrative medicine.

Amy Purdy TED Talk – Living Beyond Limits
After being given a 2% chance of survival from bacterial meningitis, Amy Purdy recovered at the expense of her legs, spleen, kidneys and some of her hearing. With her Mom shielding her from negativity, a kidney from her Dad and a lot of painful, hard work, she not only overcame her prognosis, but went on to become a Paralympic and World Cup medalist. In this TED Talk, she describes the blessings born from her struggles, using visualization and how life challenges can push us to go further than we or science ever thought was possible.

Crazy Sexy Cancer
Kris Carr is an entertainer turned activist, who revolutionized the living with cancer movement. Through this five year documented journey, she realized cancer wasn’t killing her, but rather pushing her to live. She even goes as far as calling cancer her guru. Her documentary and books are inspiring and share the tips and tricks she’s used over the past decade to defy her prognosis through healthy living.

Stories of Miracles
I love reading and hearing stories about people who did what science told them was impossible. Here are a couple sites I visit when in need of a little hope or proof that miracles are thriving.
The Secret Stories
The Radical Remission Project

Law of Attraction Books
My favorites are The Secret and The Power by Rhonda Byrne. Each book has a chapter on health, stories of improbable survival, suggestions on how to change your mindset and actions to attract the best possible outcome. I’ve downloaded the audio books and listen to these on repeat for a few minutes each day.

And when all else fails to inspire you, I found laughter to be great medicine. Over the summer, I spent hours laying in bed watching Jimmy Fallon, Lip Sync Battles and my favorite Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell films. Not only did they put me in a better mood, but they helped me to escape, if only for a while.

Feel free to comment below with your favorite inspirational stories.