Inspirational Books for Cancer Patients


Battling cancer is a scary prospect for anyone. It can be an alienating experience for those undergoing treatment as well as their caregivers as they struggle to understand what is happening. Finding courage is the key to making the journey from diagnosis through a successful treatment, and one of the best sources of courage and insight are books.

Our picks for the best inspirational books for cancer patients cover a wide range of topics and genres. Because every diagnosis is different, we aimed to provide a list of books by authors with different viewpoints and experiences to help anyone, be they a patient, a loved one, or just curious about what cancer is like, to better understand the journey and what to expect.

1. “Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s,” by Kairol Rosenthal.

After undergoing treatment herself, the author made it her mission to collect the stories of other young adults living with cancer. Her book collects the stories of twenty-five people from all across the United States alongside her own to explore how the disease has shaped their experiences and outlooks. The stories themselves are a mixture of highs and lows—reflective of the treatment itself—that all offer unique insight, perspectives, and hope.

2. “What Helped Get Me Through,” edited by Julie K. Silver.

In our day-to-day lives, we sometimes hide or downplay our feeling with cheerful faces or brief remarks. For some of us, this leads to an inability to articulate when something feels severely wrong. This is especially true for cancer patients, who may worry that those around them may not understand what they’re going through. Julie Silver, a survivor herself, has collected stories from over one-hundred explaining what helped them cope and connect with those around them. It’s a great tool for those who are looking for additional support.

3. “Catching a Miracle,” by Mark J. Spinicelli.

There are lots of novels about characters battling cancer, but Catching a Miracle makes our list because it uses multiple avenues to explore its story, its characters, and its overall message of hope. On the surface, Spinicelli’s novel is a thriller: After overcoming a terminal diagnosis of childhood cancer, Dr. Shelly White devotes her time and energy to finding a cancer cure. However, she finds her efforts are constantly attacked and sabotaged by corporations threatened by an accessible cure. Through her journey, White has to muster up the courage time and again to stare down ever-growing threats to follow through on her convictions. Patients can relate to her story and find inspiration in her determination.

4. “Picture Your Life After Cancer,” by The New York Times.

This book is an incredible collection of stories of those who survived cancer alongside their photographs. The New York Times asked survivors to write about how the disease impacted them and their loved ones. The book has been celebrated for its realistic, first-hand accounts of what patients experienced from diagnosis through treatment. Because the stories are penned by the patients themselves, it runs the gamut of emotions, but inspiration runs throughout.

5. “Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself,” by Michael A. Singer.

While this book isn’t specifically about cancer itself (it’s about coping with the unexpected things life can throw at you in general), it’s a perfect read for those undergoing treatment. A cancer diagnosis brings a lot of emotions with it, but confusion underscores all of them. So many “what if” questions arise that it can be hard to simply focus on what’s best at the moment, let alone the present itself. Untethered Soul is anchored in self-reflection and introspection, giving the readers a perspective on themselves and the role they play in their happiness and hope. Though it has something of a spiritual bent to it, it’s recommended regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs.

6. “The Patient’s Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love,” by Leslie D. Michelson.

As you’re reading through survivor accounts and memoirs, don’t overlook the more technical side of what living with cancer can mean. The Patient’s Playbook was designed by the author to serve as a detailed guide to what you should do from the moment a diagnosis is made through the end of your treatment. There are a lot of questions you’re likely to have (and some you may not think of) whose answers can make your journey more organized while eliminating some of the unknowns.

7. “Cancer Vixen” by Marisa Acocella Marchetto

Cancer Vixen is a graphic novel that looks at the author’s life before, during, and after cancer, detailing how her once carefree life must change and adapt as she makes the journey through treatment. Marchetto, a cartoonist with the New Yorker, delivers her memoir with a sense of humor that may come as a surprise to some but can be an incredible healing tool.

8. “Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to Know” by Lori Hope

It can be difficult for someone with cancer to reach out and ask for help: Sometimes, they can’t find the right words to express what they’re feeling, or they worry that they can’t relate to those around them. Other times they may think that they’re a burden on others and keep their concerns to themselves. That’s why caregivers, family, and friends should have a primer at the ready to help them understand and be receptive. Thankfully, that’s what Help Me Live is, and it’s written in a casual-yet-informative way. Though it was written with caregivers in mind, patients may find the book useful too, as it gives them an outside perspective of what they are experiencing and help them find the confidence to express themselves.

9. “To Begin Again: The Journey Toward Comfort, Strength, and Faith in Difficult Times” by Naomi Levy

This is another book that wasn’t specifically written about cancer but applies to anyone diagnosed and undergoing treatment. As a Rabbi, the author has helped many people find ways to cope with grief stemming from a variety of different situations. She shares their stories, and her counselling, in this book, alongside her own story of hardship. So much of how we respond to stressful or painful situations is based on our determination to find hope and meaning. Levy’s book shows how everyone has the power to give those gifts to others.

10. “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Cancer is a mysterious thing, or so we’re told. While it’s true, that there are aspects of the disease that remain a mystery to us, Mukherjee’s history of cancer pulls back the curtain to reveal some of the information that’s less publicly known. The book begins with the earliest recognized cases and creates a timeline of treatments and evolving science to paint a comprehensive picture of cancer and its relationship with us. Though rooted in medical science, The Emperor of All Maladies is written in a clear, concise way that’s easy to pick up. But most importantly, it’s ultimately a story brimming with optimism and hope for the future of cancer research.

11. “Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing,” by Caroline Myss

For the more spiritually inclined among you, Anatomy of the Spirit offers a bevy of quotes and unique lines of thought to help you overcome physical and emotional challenges. Myss explores the idea that negative thinking and feelings can serve to worsen diseases and provides motivation, through her own stories and those of others, to remain optimistic while facing uncertainty and fear. Anatomy of the Spirit is about more than relieving suffering: it’s about reclaiming your life.

12. “Cooking for Chemo… and After!” by Ryan Callahan

While most of us, regardless of whether we’ve been diagnosed with a form of cancer, know that chemotherapy can negatively impact appetite, many don’t know that the treatment can also leave a strange, metal-like taste in your mouth, making the idea of eating that much more unpleasant. Callahan’s cookbook focuses on making the right foods in a cancer diet more appealing for those undergoing chemotherapy. The suggestions made are simple to follow and don’t require extensive culinary knowledge or specialized equipment to make. Good nutrition is vital during treatment, and this cookbook addresses how to overcome the difficulties a patient and their caregiver might encounter in trying to maintain the right diet.

13. “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi

This memoir shares the ever-growing pool of questions Kalanithi faced while battling, and ultimately surviving, lung cancer. When it seems like death is imminent, the things we prioritize may change, and as Kalanithi experienced, we may question what the point in anything. Despite losing focus on the future, the author discovers what a meaningful life is and how comfort can be found in balancing living in the moment and living for the future. At times heart-breaking and uplifting, When Breath Becomes Air is a powerful read for patients and their loved ones alike.

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