Cancer lit


In yesterday’s wrap-up of 2013 I failed to highlight a literary genre that I have recently discovered – cancer lit. This comes either in the form of non-fiction (research, supposition and cold hard facts) or biography (big on tragedy, low on swashbuckling romance). None of the covers feature Fabio as a neuro-oncology consultant. Not one.

Then there are the self-help, don’t-eat-this-eat-that guides. Follow the Ketogenic diet! You may live longer, or does it just feel longer…

Here are some that I read during the year (not necessarily published during 2013).

When the air hits your brain: tales from neurosurgery by Frank Vertosick Jr

“When the air hits your brain, you are never the same”.  This book chronicles Vertosick’s neurosurgical residency training. Fascinating for those interested in the details of neurosurgery, written for a layman audience. Contains a lot of black humour. I enjoyed this book but was very glad I didn’t read it prior to B’s surgery.

The emperor of all maladies: a biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This book won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction: the jury called it “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal”. It weaves together Mukherjee’s experiences as a hematology/oncology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as the history of cancer treatment and research. Fascinating and informative.

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Author, polemicist, journalist and atheist, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2010. He died in 2011 after publication of this selection of essays he wrote for Vanity Fair. The essays consider his fear of losing the ability to write, the torture of chemotherapy, an analysis of Nietzsche’s proclamation that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” the joy of conversation and the meaning of life.

The C word by Lisa Lynch

A blog-turned-book by a very unfortunate British woman in her twenties, diagnosed out of the blue with aggressive, takes-no-prisoners, will-kill-you-for-certain breast cancer. Kill her it did, when  she was only 33. Her honest and forthright writing style (she refers to her cancer as ‘The Bullshit’) resonated with me.

Anti-cancer: a new way of life by David Servan-Schreiber

Interesting book with a misleading title (as there is no such thing as an ‘anti-cancer’ diet). Contains a lot of tips for healthy living and eating in general. B, however, proclaimed it to be ‘rubbish’. He’s unconvinced by anything that doesn’t have concrete scientific proof behind it.

On my medical reading list for the next year are the following – let me know of any recommendations that you have.

  • C: Because cowards get cancer too by John Diamond
  • Mapping the mind by Rita Carter
  • Bad Pharma: how medicine is broken and how we can fix it by Ben Goldacre
  • Trick or treament? Alternative medicine on trial by Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst


  1. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy. Read it 10 years ago and it’s always stayed with me.

    1. I’ve read that, ages ago. Yes it was good. Might have to re-read it.

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