Inspirational Books for Cancer Patients

Shelf of books

Good Reads for Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones

Cancer patients and their families and friends may look for books that offer hope, encouragement, and guidance. Our experts at Roswell Park put together this reading list full of insightful and educational books to help those living with or around cancer find comfort and inspiration when it’s most needed.

Here are a few of their selections:

For Caregivers

"There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love" by Kelsey Crowe, PhD, and Emily McDowell

Written in a how-to, relatable, we’ve-all-been-that-deer-in-the-headlights kind of way, "There Is No Good Card for This" isn’t a spiritual treatise on how to make you a better person or a scientific argument about why compassion matters. It is a helpful illustrated guide to effective compassion that takes you, step by step by step, past the paralysis of thinking about someone in a difficult time to actually doing something (or nothing) with good judgment instead of fear.

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

When we hear that someone close to us has cancer, we want nothing more than to help. But sometimes we don’t know what to say or do, and don’t feel comfortable asking. With sensitive insights, thoughtful anecdotes, and sometimes, gentle humor, "Help Me Live" provides a personal yet thoroughly researched account of words and actions that comfort and heal.

“The Art of Comforting: What to Say and Do for People in Distress” by Val Walker

In this practical, step-by-step guide to what she calls "the art of comforting," Val Walker draws on numerous interviews with "Master Comforters" to guide readers in gently and gracefully breaking through the walls that those who are suffering often erect around themselves.


“Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor” by Kris Carr

Included in this cancer survival guide are helpful sections on choosing the right doctor, learning to live in a self-nurturing manner and fighting cancer with your fork. "Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor" will help you approach cancer and other health challenges with a fresh perspective, and it’ll fuel your healing journey with fire and rebellion.

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

On a shoe-string budget and with a tape recorder in hand, Kairol Rosenthal emerged from treatment and hit the road in search of other twenty- and thirty-something cancer survivors. From the Big Apple to the Bible Belt, she dusts the sugar coating off of the young adult cancer experience, exposing the gritty and compelling stories of twenty-five complete strangers.

“Finding the Can in Cancer” by Nancy Emerson, Pam Leight, Susan Moonan and Terri Schinaz

A compelling handbook for cancer patients, their families, and friends. Four long-term survivors, with more than 70 years of collective experience dealing with cancer, have put together a guidebook to help others who face this illness.


"Soul-Soothing Stories of Cancer Survivors" by Heidi Leist

"Soul-Soothing Stories of Cancer Survivors" is a compelling book inspired by hundreds of people who have shared their inspirational stories of faith, bravery and love. The stories lovingly shared in this book are intended to be a source of light and hope for you or someone else you care about.

"Promise Me, Dad" by Joe Biden

In November 2014, thirteen members of the Biden family gathered on Nantucket for Thanksgiving, a tradition they had been celebrating for the past forty years; it was the one constant in what had become a hectic, scrutinized, and overscheduled life. The Thanksgiving holiday was a much-needed respite, a time to connect, a time to reflect on what the year had brought, and what the future might hold. But this year felt different from all those that had come before. Joe and Jill Biden's eldest son, Beau, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor fifteen months earlier, and his survival was uncertain. "Promise me, Dad," Beau had told his father. "Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right." Joe Biden gave him his word.

“Humor After the Tumor: One Woman’s Look at Her Year with Breast Cancer” by Patty Gelman

Breast cancer survivor Patty Gelman recounts her journey through "Cancer World" in a series of anecdotes, chronicling her year-long struggle with the disease in an upbeat, colloquial, and often candidly funny way. Typical of her unyieldingly positive attitude is the way that Gelman breaks the news to her mother, also a cancer survivor: "'Well, it's my turn now!'"

“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Harcourt School Publishers

Hiroshima-born Sadako is lively and athletic--the star of her school's running team. And then the dizzy spells start. Soon gravely ill with leukemia, the "atom bomb disease," Sadako faces her future with spirit and bravery. Recalling a Japanese legend, Sadako sets to work folding paper cranes. For the legend holds that if a sick person folds one thousand cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again. Based on a true story, "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" celebrates the extraordinary courage that made one young woman a heroine in Japan.

“Survival Lessons” by Alice Hoffman

Her own longing for a guidebook when she was confronted by loss and cancer inspired Hoffman, the best-selling author of 21 imaginative and compassionate novels, to write her first nonfiction title. While under stress, she “needed to know how people survived trauma” and to be reminded of “the beauty of life.” Writing with sparkling directness, warmth, humor, and long-steeped wisdom, Hoffman has created a companionable and genuinely useful book for times of crisis.

“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow

A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he – "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" – wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think").

Nutrition & Wellness

“One Bite at a Time” and “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen” by Rebecca Katz

"One Bite at a Time" is an instant turn-on to colorful, delicious, nourishing food featuring more than 85 simple-to-prepare, sumptuous recipes from little nibbles to satisfying entrees.

Dishes such as Poached Coconut-Ginger Salmon, Spinach Orzo with Pine Nuts and Feta, Taxicab Yellow Tomato Soup, and Magic Mineral Broth reinvigorate the appetite with ingredients that help bolster the body’s immune system. Along with recipes, Rebecca offers down-to-earth information and advice for those dealing with the culinary ups and downs often experienced during treatment.

“Soft Foods for Easier Eating Cookbook: Easy-to-Follow Recipes for People Who Have Chewing and Swallowing Problems” by Sandra Woodruff and Leah Gilbert-Henderson

Each year, medical treatments leave millions of patients with chewing and swallowing difficulties. Most hospitals deal with this by puréeing their food. The unfortunate result is that food becomes unappetizing, and patients fail to obtain the nutrition they need. Now, nutritionists Sandra Woodruff and Leah Gilbert-Henderson have written the "Soft Foods for Easier Eating Cookbook," an easy-to-follow guide that offers maximum nutrition and taste with minimum discomfort.

"Yin Yoga: Stretch the Mindful Way" by Kassandra Reinhardt

Yin yoga offers a remedy to the stress and hustle of your busy yang life. By concentrating on restorative poses that target your deeper fascia and connective tissues, you’ll experience increased flexibility and improved joint health. Yin yoga also focuses on deep breathing and longer hold times, allowing you the time and space to clear your mind and enhance your mental acuity. These meditative poses will help you attain a renewed sense of mindfulness and physical well-being, making them the perfect complement to an active yang lifestyle and helping bring you back into balanc

Religion & Spirituality

“It's Not About the Hair and Other Certainties of Life and Cancer” by Debra Jarvis

Debra Jarvis works as a chaplain supporting patients at Seattle’s Cancer Care Alliance (the clinic founded by the world-famous Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute). In that capacity she meets daily with patients in at many points along the path of living with cancer, from diagnosis to treatment to recovery and facing death. So in one of those ironic twists of fate, Jarvis was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. "It’s Not About the Hair" is the account of her time with cancer. As she says, the first thing people ask when they learn you have cancer is whether you are going to lose your hair. But what they really mean to ask is whether you are going to lose your life.

“Love, Medicine & Miracles” by Bernie Siegel, MD

Unconditional love is the most powerful stimulant of the immune system. The truth is: love heals. Miracles happen to exceptional patients every day–patients who have the courage to love, those who have the courage to work with their doctors to participate in and influence their own recovery.

“The Healing Power of Humor” by Allen Klein

Science has proved, although we knew it all along, that humor is our best medicine. It reduces stress, promotes physical healing, is essential for mental health and can add years to one’s life. But how do we learn to lighten up and take the first step toward finding the humorous side to our troubles when what we really feel like doing is crying? Allen Klein, who has successfully taught thousands to find the humor and consolations in life’s tribulations.

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