Best Books on Living with Cancer



Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies (Novel) by Maddie Mortimer

A work of autofiction, inspired by her own mother's death when she was only 14, Maddie Mortimer's captivating debut novel tells the story of Lia, who's previously treated breast cancer has made another appearance and it's going to be terminal.
Sadly she will be leaving behind her small family - a husband and daughter who too are living the same anxieties and fears as their mother faces her mortality.    this time she's going to die, leaving behind her husband and young daughter. 
What makes the narrative so striking, is the innovative way in which she explores illness and life. Cancer takes the 'I' form and takes you by surprise as it shapeshifts into this destructive narrative. While the other narrative of the mind battles with this more bodily narrative (the voice of the disease).
We learn about Lia's past and the impact of that on her body - her regrets, her deepest desire, the man she didn't marry. The people she was leaving behind - and ultimately reckoning with forgiveness - self-forgiveness and compassion as she slowly approaches death.

A hugely experimental novel with the three different narratives that weave through leaves you thinking about the book long after you have read it - an ambitious read, it will resonate deeply with anyone who has struggled with chronic disease.


The Spare Room (Novel) by Helen Garner

The Spare Room (Canons) by [Helen Garner]

"The Spare Room" is a novel written by Helen Garner. Published in 2008, it tells the story of a woman named Helen who offers her spare room to her friend Nicola, who is seeking alternative cancer treatment. The novel explores the themes of friendship, illness, and the emotional toll that caring for a terminally ill person can have on both the patient and the caregiver.

As the story unfolds, Helen witnesses firsthand the physical and emotional hardships that Nicola endures while undergoing unorthodox cancer treatments. Helen becomes increasingly frustrated with Nicola's refusal to accept her deteriorating condition and the impact it has on their friendship. The novel delves into the complexities of caring for someone with a terminal illness, examining the boundaries of friendship and the strain it places on relationships.

"The Spare Room" is known for its honest and raw portrayal of the challenges and emotions involved in supporting a terminally ill loved one. Helen Garner draws on her own experiences as a caregiver to bring authenticity to the narrative, exploring the themes of hope, acceptance, and the limits of human endurance in the face of illness.

The novel offers a poignant exploration of the complexities of friendship and the power dynamics that can emerge when one person takes on the role of caregiver. It delves into the profound impact that illness can have on both the individual experiencing it and those around them, examining the nuances of empathy, boundaries, and the difficult choices that come with providing support during such challenging times.

Ways to Live Forever (Novel) by Sally Nicholls 

Ways to Live Forever by [Sally Nicholls]

"Ways to Live Forever" is a young adult novel written by Sally Nicholls. Published in 2008, it is a poignant and heartfelt story that explores the themes of life, death, friendship, and the quest for understanding in the face of terminal illness.

The book is narrated by 11-year-old Sam, who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Through Sam's journal entries, the reader gains insight into his thoughts, emotions, and reflections as he comes to terms with his illness and grapples with the idea of mortality.

Sam is an inquisitive and imaginative boy who seeks answers to the big questions about life and death. He embarks on a mission to write a book about his experiences and to find ways to live forever through his words and memories. Along the way, he forms a deep friendship with his neighbor, Felix, who also has a serious illness. Together, they navigate the challenges of their conditions and find solace and understanding in each other's company.

"Ways to Live Forever" explores the complex emotions and experiences of a young person facing a life-threatening illness, as well as the impact it has on their relationships with family and friends. The novel delves into themes of acceptance, resilience, and the search for meaning in the face of adversity.

Sally Nicholls' book provides an honest and sensitive portrayal of a young boy's journey through illness, capturing the innocence, curiosity, and courage that can coexist in the face of mortality. It tackles difficult subject matter with compassion, allowing readers to empathize with Sam and gain insight into the profound questions that arise when confronted with mortality at a young age.

"Ways to Live Forever" has been praised for its authentic portrayal of a child's perspective on illness and death, as well as its ability to spark important conversations about life, loss, and the power of storytelling.

My Sister's Keeper (Novel) by Jodi Picoult 

My Sister's Keeper by [Jodi Picoult]

"My Sister's Keeper" is a novel written by Jodi Picoult. Published in 2004, the book explores themes of family, ethics, and the complexities of love through the lens of a young girl's struggle with leukemia and the legal battle that ensues within her family.

The story revolves around the Fitzgerald family, whose eldest daughter, Kate, has been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. The parents, Sara and Brian, make the decision to conceive another child, Anna, specifically for the purpose of using her as a genetic match and potential donor for Kate. As Anna grows older, she becomes increasingly aware of her role as a medical resource for her sister, and she begins to question her own identity and right to make decisions about her own body.

When Kate's condition deteriorates and Anna is expected to donate a kidney to her sister, Anna takes legal action against her parents, seeking medical emancipation. This decision causes a deep divide within the family and leads to a complex and emotional courtroom drama as Anna fights for the right to make decisions about her own body and future.

The novel delves into the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters, exploring questions of autonomy, personal sacrifice, and the limits of parental control. It raises thought-provoking questions about medical ethics, the value of human life, and the often fraught dynamics within families facing medical crises.

Jodi Picoult's "My Sister's Keeper" presents multiple perspectives by narrating the story through the voices of various family members, including Anna, her parents, her brother, and even her court-appointed lawyer. This approach allows readers to gain insight into the complex emotions, motivations, and conflicts experienced by each character as they grapple with their roles and responsibilities in the face of a life-threatening illness.

The novel addresses profound themes of love, sacrifice, identity, and the lengths individuals will go to protect those they care about. It has resonated with readers for its emotional depth, ethical exploration, and examination of the bonds that hold families together in the face of extraordinary challenges.

The Fault in Our Stars (Fiction) by John Green


"The Fault in Our Stars" is a novel by John Green that tells the story of two teenagers, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, who meet and fall in love while navigating the challenges of living with cancer.

Hazel, the narrator of the story, has been living with terminal thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. Despite her grim prognosis, Hazel tries to maintain a somewhat normal life, attending support group sessions where she meets Augustus, a charismatic and charming young man in remission from osteosarcoma.

As their friendship deepens, Hazel and Augustus bond over their shared experiences, love for books, and philosophical discussions about life and death. They embark on a journey together to meet their favorite author, Peter Van Houten, who resides in Amsterdam. This trip becomes a turning point in their lives, as they face personal and emotional challenges while grappling with the reality of their illnesses.

Throughout the novel, John Green explores profound themes such as love, mortality, the human condition, and the meaning of life. He delves into the complexities of living with illness and the impact it has on relationships, both romantic and familial. The story highlights the resilience, courage, and emotional strength of the characters as they confront their mortality and seek to make the most of the time they have.

"The Fault in Our Stars" is a poignant and heart-wrenching novel that explores the fragility and beauty of life, reminding readers of the importance of love, friendship, and embracing the present moment despite the inevitability of loss.


When Breath Becomes Air (Memoir) by Paul Kalanithi 


Thirsty-six-year-old neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. His memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, discusses his journey from medical student, to doctor, patient and fatherhood. He passed away while working on the book, yet it guides us on a journey of life – how we make the most of being alive whilst our mortality comes to an end and how what life means to us dramatically changes. He navigates us through his multiple identities, and how even in the face of death so much meaning can be drawn from what we are to others and how we relate to others. 

The Emperor of All Maladies (Health) by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies by [Siddhartha Mukherjee]

"The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" is a non-fiction book written by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Published in 2010, it is a comprehensive and captivating exploration of the history, science, and impact of cancer on humanity.

The book takes readers on a journey through time, tracing the origins of cancer from its earliest documented cases to the present day. It delves into the scientific discoveries, medical advancements, and evolving understanding of cancer as a disease. Through vivid storytelling and meticulous research, Mukherjee intertwines the personal stories of patients, doctors, and researchers, illuminating the human experience and the ongoing battle against cancer.

"The Emperor of All Maladies" provides insights into the cultural, social, and political aspects surrounding cancer. It examines the influence of various factors, such as public perception, medical ethics, funding, and advocacy, on the understanding and treatment of cancer throughout history.

Mukherjee skillfully combines scientific knowledge with compassionate storytelling, shedding light on the complexities of cancer and its impact on individuals, families, and society. The book showcases the relentless pursuit of scientists, doctors, and patients to unravel the mysteries of cancer, develop effective treatments, and improve patient care.

"The Emperor of All Maladies" is highly regarded for its thorough research, engaging narrative, and its ability to bring the multifaceted nature of cancer to the forefront. It has received critical acclaim, winning numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2011. The book serves as both an informative resource and an emotional exploration of the history and ongoing battle against one of humanity's most formidable adversaries: cancer.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Non-fiction) by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Picador Classic Book 98) by [Rebecca Skloot]

An important woman’s invaluable contribution in the field of immortalised cell lines where human cells can continue to divide indefinitely. Whilst diagnosed with cervical cancer during the early 1920s and living in poverty with her husband and five children, her cancerous cells were removed without her consent. Initial researchers discovered the cells could reproduce indefinitely. This was ground-breaking and her cells were multiplied by the billions and sold to drug companies for research. They made a tremendous contribution to science and medicine (including vaccines for polio, AIDs, cancer) and continue to be used for testing today without ever having to conduct human trials. The controversy and privacy issues this continues to raise to this day is enough to give the American public goosebumps. An influential story that opens our eyes to the tremendous contributions of African-Americans in the 20th century despite maltreatment and racist attitudes.

Radiation Diaries (Memoir) by Janet Todd

A profound memoir, Radiation Diaries, captures academic and writer, Janet Todd,  experience of intense radiation treatment for cancer that's recurred for a third time. In parallel, her own father is undergoing cancer treatment too. During this time, a lifetime of memories begin to resurface surface reckoning with the cancer inside her, forcing her to examine her own mortality, the processing of deep emotions in the face of significant uncertainty.

The book itself is split across 32 diary entries offering humour, the reality of battling cancer, and a sense of comfort by sharing her own experience. It will give a readers who may also be experiencing something similar, a sense that they are not alone, offering hope wisdom and moral support.



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