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10 Inspirational Cancer Books for Patients & Families

a women living with cancer reading an excerpt from an inspirational book

“I don’t know what to say.”

These words are frequently spoken by loved ones and friends upon hearing word of a cancer diagnosis. The helplessness and inability to put feelings into words – or actions –  expressed by the cancer patient’s community is also felt by the patient himself. There is a real need for a way to make sense out of what is happening — and that is where inspirational books for cancer patients and their families can provide a real lifeline.

Books about cancer, about loss, about struggle and grief, have been written for centuries. They are written by patients, survivors, physicians, and family members. They are written by members of the clergy and philosophers, psychologists and psychics. There is great wisdom available in many of these books: depending upon which you choose you may find a call to action or a guide to acceptance.

You may choose to only read books that support your current view or you may read a variety of themes, searching for the one that strikes the strongest chord. Whichever literary route you choose, you are likely to find that taking the time to take in the words of those who have found their voice and used it to come up with something helpful to say will provide you with support that you are unable to find in other resources.

With so many offerings available, each with its author’s own perspective it is difficult to recommend one single book. Here are ten of the most highly-rated inspirational books for those diagnosed with cancer, as well as for those who are supporting them through their journey.

10 Inspirational Books for Those Living with Cancer


1. The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

The Last Lecture is a memoir written by Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 45. Asked shortly after his diagnosis to participate in a series of lectures that represented what the speakers would say if given the chance to deliver a “final talk”, he delivered a now-famous lecture titled The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The lecture, which was filmed, inspired the book, which was aimed at providing his children with the lessons that he would be unable to provide. “These are the things I won’t get the chance to tell them over the next twenty years,” he said.  “I’m trying to put myself in a bottle that will one day wash up on the beach for them.”

2. When Breathe Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

Kalanithi was just 36-years old when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. A promising neurosurgical resident newly married to a fellow physician, his book is a memoir that documents his decision to become a physician, his diagnosis and treatment, and the internal journey that he took as he struggled with the question of what gives life meaning.

3. Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in your 20’s and 30’s, by Kairol Rosenthal

Written by a cancer survivor, the book chronicles the journeys of 25 different young people diagnosed with cancer. The group hails from all across the country, with each telling their experiences, thoughts, fears and hopes. It also provides information on invaluable resources and advice on real-life issues, including health insurance, dealing with family and friends, and job concerns.

4. Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment, by Dr. Keith Block

Described as a guide book for those diagnosed with cancer, Life Over Cancer provides patients with the benefit of his knowledge and experience in treating cancer for thirty years. The book gives patients a systematic, research-based plan for developing the physical and emotional vitality they need to meet the demands of treatment and recovery.

5. Cancer As a Turning Point: A Handbook for People with Cancer, Their Families, and Health Professionals, by Lawrence LeShan

LeShan is a psychotherapist who offers his readers a roadmap to changing their internal dialogue and psyche in order to optimize the effectiveness of the medical treatments that they are receiving in order to strengthen the immune system.

6. Picture Your Life After Cancer, by The New York Times

This powerful, award-winning book is a compilation of photos and stories of those who survived cancer. Asked how cancer had changed their lives, they submitted pictures and essays that provide potent testimony of the joys, sorrows, confusion, victories and defeats experienced by those who have been diagnosed and who finish treatment. Not every story ends happily, but all are inspirational.

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

Though this book was not written with cancer specifically in mind, it is a powerful guide to overcoming grief and sorrow and finding a way to continue on despite loss and struggle. The author, a rabbi, experienced her own tragedy at the age of fifteen when her father was murdered. The book includes her own story, as well as the stories of many who she has counseled back to strength over the years.

8. A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last, by Stephen Levine

Though not specifically written for those facing a cancer diagnosis, Levine’s book documents his own experience in choosing to live each day, hour and moment as if it were his last. His experiment, which is eye-opening in its revelations, lasted for one year. He speaks of how taking this perspective radically changes one’s priorities and provides a new way of approaching life. Particularly meaningful for those who have received a terminal diagnosis, Levine’s book can provide a powerful map for those seeking a more meaningful way to spend their final year.

9. Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing, by Anita Moorjani

This highly spiritual book recounts the author’s childhood and path into an adulthood where she found herself diagnosed with terminal cancer and close to death. Emerging from her illness with her cancer gone and a renewed sense of her own self worth, she tells a powerful and inspirational tale that has provided hope and a sense of meaning for many struggling with disease.

10. Every Day I Fight, by Stuart Scott

This memoir by renowned ESPN commentator Stuart Scott documents his personal story as well as his long battle with cancer. Determined to be there for his teenaged daughters and to provide them with a living example of courage and determination, Scott’s book is a testament to strength and living your life in a meaningful way.

We hope these titles of highly-rated inspirational books provide support, nourishment and empowerment to cancer patients and their beloved families.

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