Nothing ignites appreciation for life quite like looking death in the eye. For these seven writers, earth-shattering cancer diagnoses forced them to contemplate life.
Their memoirs — some survival tales, some not — transform bleak circumstances into heartfelt meditations.
“What happens when a shoe-crazy, lipstick-obsessed, wine-swilling, pasta-slurping, fashion-fanatic, about-to-get-married big-city girl cartoonist with a fabulous life finds … a lump in her breast?”
Marisa Acocella Marchetto chronicles her 11-month journey from diagnosis to remission with vivid comic book style in a graphic memoir. Her vivacious spirit transforms this tale into an authentic story of personal growth.
“Cancer Vixen” is an original (and colorful) approach to the cancer memoir, proving that laughter is some of the best medicine around.
Kate Bowler believed in the prosperity gospel — a person’s fortune is a blessing from God, and any misfortune is a result of God’s disapproval. At age 35, her life appeared to be full of blessings, but then she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
Now, facing her own mortality means reevaluating her long-held belief that “everything happens for a reason.”
In a memoir that is unflinchingly honest, funny, dark and wise, Bowler explores the ironic but revelatory experience of learning to live while dying.
36-year-old Paul Kalanithi was nearly finished with his neurosurgical residency when he found himself in a hospital room as someone needing treatment, rather than someone providing it, and receiving a devastating stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis.
“When Breath Becomes Air,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist, follows Kalanithi as he transitions from doctor to patient, all while grappling with poignant, hard-hitting questions about life, death and purpose.
Although Kalanithi died in 2015 prior to the completion of the book, his words are unforgettable and, notes bestselling author Atul Gawande, “proof that the dying are the ones who have the most to teach us about life.”
In 2008, Steve Melen had a successful career, a nice house and a newborn daughter he and his wife adored. As he eagerly prepared for the years ahead, a stage 3b stomach cancer diagnosis left him facing a cruel 15% survival rate, the odds stacked against any future Steve had envisioned for himself.
His memoir, “Killer Graces,” is more than just another cancer story. In the wake of stomach-removal surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Melen faces addiction to painkillers, alcohol abuse and a crumbling marriage. Navigating these challenges will require Melen to both admit weakness and muster strength.
Radio personality Bryan Bishop, known as “Bald Bryan” of “The Adam Carolla Show,” was at the height of his career when his doctors discovered an inoperable brain tumor. Faced with grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Bishop found himself confronting his own mortality at age 30.
“Told in dude-style prose just waiting to be filmed by Judd Apatow,” notes The Washington Post, “Bishop writes powerfully about the frightening reality of his disease.”
Alternately heartbreaking and hilarious, "Shrinkage" chronicles his journey to a life-saving treatment, all the while emphasizing the power of laughter in times of strife.
Chris Joseph was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer at 59, and after chemotherapy took its toll on his body and spirit, he decided he had had enough. Joseph fired his oncologist and, with no concrete plan, set off on an alternative path to recovery. He finds opportunities to improve not just his physical health but his spiritual health and the health of his relationships.
An inspirational tale that Joseph courageously penned himself — in more ways than one — his “thorough introspection of his years in cancer treatment is a rewarding examination of love, duty, legacy, and mortality,” writes BookLife.
Before the age of 3, Julie Yip-Williams had already survived a death sentence given by her grandmother and escaped Vietnam. By 2013, she is a 37-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer with a family and the most difficult years of her life seemingly behind her — until she’s diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer.
“They say that ‘youth is wasted on the young,’” writes Yip-Williams, “I realize that health is wasted on the healthy, and life is wasted on the living.”
Her story is a balanced account of hope and honesty in the face of death.