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Cancer Memoirs

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Updated: August 12, 2007

Cancer memoirs are an excellent source of emotional support for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. These are my top choices for cancer memoirs that are entertaining and insightful.

1. Bald in the Land of Big Hair: A True Story

This cancer memoir is the tale of Joni Rodgers' journey through the badlands of cancer. It tells of one woman's struggle to come to terms with everything that life throws her way. Her story is told with humor, occasional anger, and unflinching honesty.

2. At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness

In his cancer memoir, Arthur Frank explores the events of illness from within -- the transformation from person to patient, the pain, the wonder, and the ceremony of recovery. To illuminate what illness can teach us about life, Frank draws upon his own encounters with serious illness -- a heart attack at age 39 and, a year later, a diagnosis of cancer.

3. I'm Sorry You Have to be Here

This cancer memoir documents the complexities of what a mother diagnosed with cancer must face -- misdiagnoses, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation -- while continuing to parent young children and maintain a loving relationship with her husband.

4. My Own Medicine: A Doctor's Life as a Patient

At 42, Geoffrey Kurland was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, a rare cancer with a statistically low survival rate. As the doctor becomes a patient, he learns invaluable life lessons that ultimately make him a better doctor.

5. Stranger in the Village of the Sick: A Memoir of Cancer, Sorcery, and Healing

After more than 50 years as the model of perfect health, anthropologist Paul Stoller suddenly finds himself diagnosed with lymphoma. The only thing more transformative than his fear and dread of cancer is the place it ultimately takes him -- 25 years back in time to his days as an apprentice to a West African sorcerer.

6. Autobiography of a Face

At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a rare cancer that required the removal of one-third of her jaw. In her cancer memoir, Grealy captures with unique insight what it is like to be torn between two warring impulses -- wanting to be loved for who we are, while wishing desperately and secretly to be perfect. I highly recommend this cancer memoir.

7. A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing

In 1984, doctors found a large tumor in Reynolds Price's spinal cord. In his cancer memoir, Price discusses the role his friends, family, and God played in his emotional and physical recovery.

8. A Wild, Rank Place: One Year on Cape Cod

A young writer confronts life, death, and literary ancestors amid the stark beauty of Cape Cod. He believes the ocean will cleanse him of his cancer.

9. Only When I Sleep: My Family's Journey Through Cancer

The author invites readers into her family's home, into their hearts, and into the battle of their lives. This cancer memoir serves to move, inform, reassure, and assist readers in their own personal journey. The author's father also contributes a journal entry of what his family endured, offering comfort and insight to every mother and father in a similar situation.

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