I was a bad cancer patient. My head scarves were more Bret Michaels than Jackie O. My diagnosis failed to inspire any cancer art and I shut down any peppy banter in the chemo lounge with my heavy shroud of humorlessness.
On my final day of treatment for breast cancer, my radiation nurses gave me a diploma and broke into song. For weeks, I’d witnessed other patients pass around cupcakes and give high fives at this moment. I couldn’t muster up the energy to play along. I was relieved, but also exhausted and profoundly sad. In the end, I just stared at them wearily and cried.
Cancer patients receive loads of unsolicited advice, but when a trusted friend suggested I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay about her own experience with breast cancer- Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer, I sought it out immediately. Reading Ehrenreich’s essay was equivalent to releasing the greatest imaginable sigh of relief.
Though never good at feigning rosy optimism, Ehrenreich was the ally I needed to dismiss the cancer patient script of round the clock positivity and just be honest that it really sucked being a cancer patient and caring for a newborn.
Five years cancer-free, I've regained my humor and when pressed, can even come up with some positives to having survived cancer, other than the obvious surviving part. Even so, I still find comfort in other people's cancer stories that allow room for things beyond the expected bravery, juice cleanses and relentless optimism.
No two cancers and certainly, no two cancer patients are the same. How we deal with the big C is likewise individual. Here are the stories that I’ve felt were candid and helpful to my experience. Which books have helped you come to terms with cancer?