A question I’m often asked is “what book would you recommend for my friend who has recently been diagnosed/going through cancer treatment?” Great question! I’ve been wanting to write this blog for a FULL year at this point, but I wasn’t sure how to organize my thoughts. Over the last two years, I’ve read (and listened to) a TON of books as a way to cope with the stress and uncertainty of my diagnosis. Sometimes, I listen to a book for inspiration and hope. Other times, I’m looking for motivation to achieve my goals, continue pushing forward, and not to give up. (Maybe motivation regarding specific career goals…or just craving a pep-talk so I will make healthy choices.) There are also days when I REALLY just want to relax, unwind, and NOT think about cancer at all. Surely I’m not alone here? I like to listen to audio books while I do mundane chores around the house or while I’m making cold pressed juice (which takes FOREVER if you’re wondering). Anyway, with those goals in mind, I’m going to take you through some books that I have read and explain why they were HELPFUL, or UNHELPFUL. Perhaps someone reading this blog may be able to find inspiration in a new book, or at least avoid giving someone a book that will result in the recipient sobbing in front of their Kindle on an airplane (true story….and not one of my finer moments).
My girlfriends and I frequently categorize any given statement or action in this world as “helpful” or “unhelpful”. (It’s a silly over simplification, but helps add humor to almost any situation). Example: Another hurricane is barreling towards South Louisiana at the moment…. “unhelpful.” Moreover, these two categories will work nicely for my fictitious Cancer Club’s Book Club. (I know some of you just want the latest updates on my treatment….I challenge you to read this whole blog, but no pressure. My scans/chemo updates will be at the end of this blog). Back to business….
Part 1: UNHELPFUL
I’ll start with a little humor and discuss a few books that fall into the #UNHELPFUL category. Disclaimer: just because I think the following books are “unhelpful” or not appropriate for a person going through cancer, doesn’t mean that they aren’t well written, inspiring, entertaining, moving, etc. I’M JUST SAYING….buyer beware 😉
I try to “screen” a book before I read it (to make sure it’s something I’m interested in, and to make sure it isn’t going to traumatize me unnecessarily). The problem is, I don’t want to read TOO much about the book and spoil it. At the same time, I also want to look out for any “cancer red flags”. Unfortunately, the “cancer red flags’ aren’t in the book descriptions/reviews most of the time because writers apparently loooooove to surprise the reader with cancer. As far as I’m concerned, everyone in my circle has been surprised ENOUGH lately, thank you very much.
- “In 5 Years” by Rebecca Serle. I purchased this book on audible on a day I wanted to escape and NOT think about cancer. The book sounded like light and airy chick lit. Here is a review on Amazon: “A striking, powerful, and moving love story following an ambitious lawyer who experiences an astonishing vision that could change her life forever.” Another review said “In Five Years is as clever as it is moving, the rare read-in-one-sitting novel you won’t forget.” After reading the preview I thought I’m a lawyer, perhaps I have something in common with this girl ……and this is JUST the book I’m looking for? Right? Wrong. Why you ask? Well, a few chapters into the book, one of the main characters thinks she is pregnant (that’s all fine and dandy) but SURPRISE!….she’s actually not pregnant. She has stage 3 ovarian cancer. BAM. It’s like an emotional slap in the face. Moreover, the book takes the reader through the process of being diagnosed and it brought back a lot of detailed and nuanced memories for me (which are mostly traumatic). Based on the description of the diagnosis, it made me wonder if the author had experience with cancer because the description is very realistic. When I started this blog post, I literally wrote: “I’m still listening to this book (which is a credit to the author) but I’m afraid this girl isn’t going to make it, and maybe I should quit reading. I feel somewhat satisfied that the author didn’t act like chemo was a breeze…but the girl with cancer never looses her hair and there’s no mention of cold caps. Is that actually possible?” (That is possible for some types of cancer and chemotherapy regimes apparently). Update: I DID finish the book. I was hopeful this would be an inspiring story where she beats the odds and the cancer. Nope. What’s worse, the girl’s widower husband MARRIES HER BEST FRIEND…. right after she passes away. Nuuuuuuurpe. I realize this isn’t the most mature approach….but NO. Just NO people. I pray to the Lord every single day that this cancer doesn’t come back. (Another update- I wrote about this book before my recent reoccurrence, so that line was hard to read but I’m not taking it out because it’s part of my story). Anyway, I do not plan on going ANYWHERE anytime soon. But, hypothetically if something happened to me, I WOULD want Mark to be happy, whatever that entails. I’m just not 100% confident I’d be down with the best friend angle. (You never know- but right now it makes my blood boil haha). Nevertheless, this ENTIRE discussion and thought process is exactly why this book does NOT belong in the cancer gift basket. This is NOT the time to wonder if you’d be okay with your handsome husband banging your hot friend. Geez! 😉 As such, this book is classified and stamped #unhelpful. You are welcome in advance.
- “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green: I loved this book (and movie)….really, absolutely loved it. Fortunately for me, I read the book and saw the movie BEFORE my cancer diagnosis. If you’re a John Green fan, he has plenty of wonderful books that have nothing to do with cancer 🙂 To be fair, the Amazon description TOTALLY warns you that the book deals with cancer…which I really appreciate. Kudos Amazon! (Now that I think about it, the description may come from the author and if so, kudos to Mr. Green.) Either way, here is the description: “Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.” That description is on point and if you’re not sensitive to cancer then it’s absolutely worth reading. (It goes without saying though, this is not appropriate for a cancer gift basket. #Unhelpful.
- “Rush” by Lisa Patton. I originally chose this book because I figured it would be a light read. I was in a sorority in college and why not relive the good ole days, right? Wrong. The book description on Amazon says: “Achingly poignant, yet laugh-out-loud funny, RUSH takes a sharp nuanced look at a centuries-old tradition while exploring the complex, intimate relationships between mothers and daughters and female friends. Brimming with heart and hope for a better tomorrow, RUSH is an uplifting novel universal to us all.” I know they can’t spoil the ending, but nothing about that description suggested there would be a big red cancer flag. I’m not saying the description is incorrect. What I AM saying is that if reading about someone dying of LIVER cancer isn’t going to “uplift” you, I’d save this one for your remission read. (The cancer part is also a surprise too, right at the end!). I was invested in the book (I honestly liked it otherwise) so I finished it…but it’s certainly NOT something you should put in a friend’s cancer gift basket 😉 Fun fact, this is the book that left me sobbing into a kindle on a plane. #Unhelpful.
- General Advice: I really believe that anyone who takes the time to give someone a book has the best of intentions. So let’s keep that in mind above all else. However as a general rule of thumb, if the author of that book dies of cancer, that’s also a no-go. It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer it is, steer clear. It might sound like all I do is avoid the subject of cancer, but I promise that isn’t the case. My diagnosis is something I live with every day (there are emotional and physical reminders everywhere- but I think that’s normal). I realize that Stage IV TNBC isn’t ideal. I hate that there are women with what I have that don’t make it. But, I like to focus on the people who are LIVING with what I have. I trust God’s plan for my life….whatever that entails. I think it’s okay to trust God’s plan but also hope and pray to beat cancer. So, for the record, (1) I am here (2) I want to be here (3) I do NOT want to go anywhere anytime soon 🙂 Just putting that out in the universe!
Part 2: HELPFUL
On the other hand, some books can be “helpful” for someone facing a life changing cancer diagnosis/treatment.
- Relentless by Tim S. Grover with Shari Wenk: We all have that badass Cancer Warrior friend who doesn’t fit the mold. She hates the color pink and phrase “cancer journey”. She doesn’t get sad about her diagnosis…..not for long anyway. She gets mad. She wants to take action. She’s ready to start chemo YESTERDAY. The decision about her double mastectomy isn’t a decision. As far as she is concerned, her breasts are public enemy #1. (She might love the phrase “Yes my boobs are fake, they tried to kill me.”) She’s the ultimate “f#ck the feelings, let’s get to work” kind of friend. You get the idea. Maybe it’s because I’m a lawyer, but I know WAY too many lawyers that have had or currently have breast cancer. The characteristics that I’m describing are taken from several of these strong women that I know personally. These women keep me laughing, even in the middle of the chaos of my diagnosis (and recent reoccurrence- more on that later). For this kind of friend, think outside of the box. This friend needs a no-nonsense “let’s get off our ass and fight” kind of book. For that friend, I suggest Relentless. For me, this book has a backstory. Allow me to explain. A little over a year ago I was scheduled to speak at a company function (which was normal…I did the previous year right before I was diagnosed). But, this year would be different. Our CEO sat me down and asked if I would mind sharing my story (about my diagnosis) after my work presentation. At this point, I had never shared my “story” other than one on one conversations or my blog….much less in front the people and colleagues I respected the most. He also mentioned I’d be speaking right before our guest speaker, Tim Grover. When I looked up Tim’s resume, I immediately thought “well shit this guy is impressive.” (For context, this would be like trying out for your high school cheerleading squad right before Simone Biles if that helps). Anyway, I got to work on my presentation (which was only a few weeks away) and I felt good about it, considering. It wasn’t hard to articulate what I wanted to say because everything was SO fresh. At the time, I had finished 8 months of IV chemo, surgery, radiation, and I was still on Xeloda (a rough Oral Chemo which causes blisters on your hands and feet…..among other things I won’t get into). I’m pointing out the timeline because I genuinely wanted to write my presentation BEFORE I read the guest speaker’s book. I didn’t want to be influenced by what I thought people wanted to hear. I wanted all of the thoughts and ideas to be my own. Anyway, after my speech was prepared, the weekend before my presentation I read Relentless ….all in one sitting. I don’t know what I was expecting (maybe something only applicable to sports because Tim trained famous Athletes like Kobe Bryant and Micheal Jordan). I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting the book to speak to me like it did (in such a raw and honest way). I remember reading the book and looking down at the blisters covering my hands and oddly enough….feeling understood for the first time in awhile. On the outside, people would look at me and see someone who was “NED’ (at the time) and thriving. However, behind closed doors, I was still very much in the fight. Every day I had physical and mental reminders that cancer was my opponent. I was sick every day from the oral chemo (Xeloda). This book helped me stay focused on the ultimate goal…..LIVING. Fast forward to 2020 (and the recent news that the cancer returned in my liver, lungs, and spine. More on that later). However in spite of my recent reoccurrence, I can confidently say that this book STILL speaks to me…..now more than ever. I know there will be hard days ahead. Chemo is HARD, not just physically but also emotionally. There’s no way around it. But, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up. In fact, the book discusses how important it is to keep going when everyone else is giving up around you. Keeping the right mindset during my cancer treatment (regardless of how long it takes) is something that I took away from this book. It really resonated with me. The book also made me realize that this is the “hand” I’ve been dealt, and it’s up to me to write the rest of the story. I don’t want to spoil the book for you guys….so, just take my word and get it here on Amazon. You won’t regret it. The official description of the book is below, in case that helps. “Direct, blunt, and brutally honest,Grover breaks down what it takes to be unstoppable…you keep going when everyone else is giving up, you thrive under pressure. In “The Relentless 13,” he details the essential traits shared by the most intense competitors and achievers in sports, business, and all walks of life. Relentless shows you how to trust your instincts and get in the Zone; how to control and adapt to any situation; how to find your opponent’s weakness and attack. Packed with previously untold stories and unparalleled insight into the psyches of the most successful and accomplished athletes of our time, Relentless shows you how even the best get better . . . and how you can too.”
2. Struck By Hope by Jeanine Patten-Cobble: The summary: “The day after a diagnosis of breast cancer, Jeanine Patten-Coble was struck with a calling that turned her world upside down. In this book, she weaves her tale of running away from that calling—to finding her purpose. Her vision led her to found Little Pink Houses of Hope and a way for cancer patients to find hope in weeklong family retreats. In this book, she invites us along on this journey toward becoming “ridiculously present.” You can buy it on Amazon Here
Mark and I had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica last year with Little Pink Houses of Hope (it was a couples retreat where all of the wives were on active treatment for Breast Cancer). Since it was Little Pink’s first international trip, Jeanine (the founder/author) was one of the “volun-Stars” as they are appropriately called. (I’m going to dedicate an entire blog to our Costa Rica Trip because there’s too much to write about- stay tuned).
Anyway, when Mark and I retuned home from Costa Rica, I immediately read Jeanine’s book. Besides being one of those amazing confident women that people flock to….she’s also really down to earth. Her book, helped me see that being “ridiculously present” in my life is such an important (and sometimes difficult) task. I liked the format of the book as well. It’s interactive and invites the reader to contemplate certain ideas about their own life. While I was reading, I found myself asking things like “how do I want to make a difference in the world? ….or What’s my purpose?” I know Jeanine has found her purpose….she exudes calm confidence no matter what situation she’s in. Several weeks ago, (right after I found out about my cancer reoccurrence) I was on the phone with Jeannie. If memory serves, I was kind of falling apart. During that conversation, she said “Holly, there are about to be two “trains” in your life. One train for your treatment and everything that goes along with it. Parallel to that treatment train will be another train. It will be going the same speed, direction, and end up at the same destination as the first train (but THIS will be the fun train)….I know you’ll have to be on the treatment train sometimes, but try to make it your goal to spend as much time on the fun train as possible.” At that moment I thought to myself, “you know what- she is absolutely right.” None of us are guaranteed a certain amount of time in this earth….why not be on the fun train as much as we can? It really all comes down to being “ridiculously present” to get on that fun train! (One more reason this book is on my #helpful list). Another fun fact: Jeanine was a CNN Hero! (Click on this link for more info and video about Little Pink). I recently recorded a video testimonial for Little Pink’s online gala/fundraiser this year. They are going to play video at the “Dancing with the Little Pink Stars” Gala TONIGHT at 6pm CST (October 10, 2020). Speaking from personal experience, Little Pink is SUCH a worthy cause. It changes lives and gives people so much more than a vacation. On that note, please consider watching with me (virtually) at 6pm CST (7pm Eastern). The link to watch is below! My video testimonial should be in the first 10 minutes 🙂
To watch: Click here! Little Pink’s DWTS Today October 10th at 6:00 pm CST (7pm Eastern).
I digress, back to the book! In a nutshell, this book was a quick (and inspiring) read. I would wholeheartedly put it on the #helpful list 🙂
Okay, now it’s your turn! Please do me a favor and comment/share a book that you found to be #helpful. I would love to be able to update this blog with a long list of personally recommended books from sister survivors. Again, so we don’t leave our friends crying in Ulta on a Wednesday….another one of my finer moments.
I’d also love any suggestions re: movies or TV shows that you found to be “helpful” (or at least entertaining and not traumatic). Chemo days can be long and tedious- So give me all of your suggestions (and feel free to tell me why you liked it). I’ll be doing another blog with TV and Movie recommendations so this would be great way to get started 🙂 (note they don’t have to relate to cancer- just anything you’ve enjoyed!)
🖤Other Book Recommendations🖤
2. Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr. Another survivor wrote: “She is still around and thriving and think there is a documentary now)”.
3. The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden. A friend of mine (TNBC survivor) wrote: “Currently loving this! BUT… I haven’t finished, so I can’t 100% confirm it would make the #helpful list! Will report back. 🤣”
4. Braving Chemo by Dr. Beverly Zavaleta (It’s easy to read and packed with tons of good tips as you head into chemo). Also – just finished Untamed by Glennon Doyle and it’s a must-read for any woman!”
5. Praying Through Cancer by Susan Sorensen. (Added this book May 25, 2021). My mom gave me this (I think) when I was first diagnosed. I received so many books in the beginning I didn’t know where to begin. I just picked up this book and it’s a daily devotional. It’s exactly what I need right now. Thanks mom❤️
***As you can see, we need more book recs. Feel free to comment on this blog or DM me on Instagram. My username is @HollyHollisStars
Health Update: If you’re still reading, thank you! As promised, here’s the latest. The MRI of my neck showed cancer in my spine. Ughhhhhhh RUDE. But, the good news is that if you’re going to have mets, bone isn’t the worst place to have them according to my doctors. We will be continuing the same treatment regimen but will be adding a once a month shot to strengthen my bones called Xgeva. As of now, that’s all I have. I’m on day 4 now so I’m not feeling great. Prayers for the nausea to pass, and for the chemo to annihilate the cancer in my liver, lungs, and spine. Please and thank you.
As always, thank you for the support, love, and prayers.
⭐️Holly Hollis Stars ⭐️