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Cancer Survivor Stories: A Reading List


This past Sunday, I spent the morning in Central Park participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I was not the only librarian there. Turns out, there's a New York Public Library team that walks every year. It was not my first time there, either. This was my third breast cancer walk since moving to New York City three years ago.

So this month, as I asked family and friends for donations, I began thinking about cancer in general. There's a few books that I've read over the last few years that have inspired me to join the fight to end cancer, so I thought I might share a few of these titles with you. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, they are books that will make you think about an issue that affects nearly all of us in one way or another.

The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood

This book opens with the amazing story of Ellin Klor, a children's librarian from Santa Clara, California. On her way to a knitting circle in Palo Alto, Ellin trips and manages to lodge one of her knitting needles squarely in her chest. It turns out, the needle had gone all the way through her sternum. The needle's tip was now piercing the outer most level of her heart. 

If her initial survival wasn't already fantastic enough, it was necessary to fly Klor throughout California to the top specialists to try and find a way to remove the knitting needle safely. In the process or reviewing her CT scans, one of her doctors saw a suspicious lymph node. Further testing revealed that she had breast cancer. After going through treatment, doctors were able to stop the cancer in its tracks. By stabbing herself through the heart accidentally, Klor may have in fact saved her own life.

The Survivors Club has many amazing survival stories like this. It's worth reading.

Looking for more books? Other great reads involving cancer survivors include:

  • It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong — although he is perhaps one of the world's most well known cyclists, Lance Armstrong doesn't write here about winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times. Instead, he talks about how his terrifying battle with testicular cancer ultimately changed the way he lives.
  • Bobblehead Dad by Jim Higley — a thoughtful autobiographical account of a man's struggle with cancer. Higley candidly talks about cancer claiming various members of his immediate family while growing up, tying his experiences into his present struggle with the disease and how he uses what he's learned to be a better father.
  • Bright-sided by Barbara Ehrenreich — a breast cancer survivor herself, Ehrenreich offers a searing account of her own experiences in a section titled, "Smile! You're Got Cancer!" Her dismissal of the "positive" attitudes after her diagnosis has been known to rub some people the wrong way, but many find it honest and refreshing.

Be sure to check out NYPL's updated 2011 Breast Cancer Research Guide, too.

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A book recommendation

I'd like to recommend Anya Krugovoy Silver's recently published book of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God. Most of these poems address her own struggle with breast cancer.

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