OncoLog: MD Anderson's report to physicians about advances in cancer care and research.

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From OncoLog, November-December 2010, Vol. 55, Nos. 11-12

House Call: Books Provide Comfort, Guidance, Relaxation

A recent survey of cancer survivors from the Anderson Network, MD Anderson’s patient support program, asked what inspirational, comforting, or helpful books they would recommend for someone facing a serious illness.

More than 100 members responded, citing their favorite spiritual books, biographies of cancer survivors, books that diverted them and made them laugh, and books that gave them information about their disease or helped them cope better.

The book most often cited was the Bible. Many respondents said it provided guidance, inspiration, faith, hope, peace, and strength.

The second most often mentioned book was Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike. One man wrote, “As I was facing surgery, the book gave me hope that I was going to handle all the challenges ahead—and I did.” Another cancer survivor described the book as a “lifeline to me [that] made me believe in my recovery.”

Another favorite author was Bernie S. Siegel. Several respondents found his books funny, comforting, hopeful, and encouraging. Siegel’s Love, Medicine, and Miracles was described by one survivor as “a demonstration of the power of the human spirit and its ability to heal the body.” Another popular book by Siegel was How to Live Between Office Visits.

Guidance

Many people said reading books about cancer helped them. Numerous respondents mentioned Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book by Susan M. Love, Anti-Cancer by David Servan-Schreiber, and three books published by the Bloch Cancer Foundation. Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book was described as an easy-to-read, understandable reference for questions related to breast cancer and as “a manual that explained everything I went through and made me less afraid.”

One network member wrote that Anti-Cancer provided “good ideas on how to fight cancer with food and supplements and how to keep one’s spirits positive and strong while dealing with cancer.” One member recommended all three Bloch Cancer Foundation books: Fighting Cancer, Cancer—There’s Hope, and Guide for Cancer Supporters. “Working as a volunteer on the Anderson Network hotline, I hear from many, many people how much those books helped them and their families,” she wrote. “The books have given people hope when they only found pessimism and negativity from others.”

Comfort

Several respondents recommended books on meditation they found helpful, including Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn and The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper. Others wrote that they benefited from self-help books such as Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, The Gift of Change by Marianne Williamson, and The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl also was praised.

Among the books that made network members feel better were several Chicken Soup for the Soul books by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, There’s No Place Like Hope by Vickie Girard, and Cancer Has Its Privileges: Stories of Hope and Laughter by Christine Clifford.

A favorite book, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow, was mentioned by several respondents, one of whom described it as “very inspiring, giving one hope until the end.” Others cited Talking About Death by Virginia Morris, On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland.

Relaxation

Many people recommended books having nothing to do with illness or cancer. One found refuge from her illness in “the wonderfully imaginative and cleverly written Harry Potter adventures.” Another enjoyed finally reading “the classic books I never read in school: Dickens, Swift, Tolstoy.” Others found respite and distraction in reading mystery novels, Jane Austen novels, poetry, books about their hobbies, Erma Bombeck books and “anything that made me laugh,” or “the very funny Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.” A network member from Minnesota loved Oddball Texas by Jerome Pohlen.

One network member wrote, “I wanted to read exciting Dan Brown books (The Da Vinci Code) or get lost in a good western (Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove), or start on those classic novels I’d always wanted to read (Huckleberry Finn, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights).” One woman found inspiration in the novel Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which showed her that “even in a terrible situation, potential will flower.”

Be sure to consult your physician before making any diet or treatment changes based on your reading. The Anderson Network is MD Anderson Cancer Center’s support group of more than 1,700 current and former cancer patients. Their patient and caregiver support line is 800-345-6324.

For more information on this topic or for questions about MD Anderson’s treatments, programs, or services, call askMDAnderson at (877) MDA-6789.

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